Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Brett Witteveen laid to rest

SHELBY -- When Brett Witteveen lost his mother to cancer several years ago, the boy was "taken in" by close friends and extended family who helped him and his father cope with their grief, friends said.

In many ways, he became everyone's brother, everyone's son.

And so, on Monday, when the hearse carrying the casket of 20-year-old Witteveen wound through his stomping grounds of Hart and Shelby, it was hard to decipher who among the dozens lining the route were friends and who were family.

Friends say the Hart High School graduate was so well-liked by so many in both Oceana County communities that the lines became blurred.

"He was a people person. He was always smiling. This is real hard ... We are just numb. We don't want to believe it," said former classmate Sierra Pangburn, one of those who turned out in the cold mist to pay their respects as Witteveen's body was carried to a Shelby funeral home.

The U.S. Marine reservist was killed Feb. 18 in Iraq when he was hit by a roadside bomb while on foot patrol near Fallujah, west of Baghdad. He served with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment out of Grand Rapids. He was been in Iraq since October, and was engaged to be married.

Several standing along the main streets in Hart and Shelby referred to the talented football player as "one of the family."

Mark Hodges was one of several veterans who lined the hearse's route near Hart High School.

"He was the toughest football kid," said Hodges, who served in Desert Storm and had coached Witteveen in football during his "pee wee" years.

Through tears, Hodges said Witteveen was taken "too soon."

"He was just a pup," he said. "He had so much heart. I'm sure he was the best solider there."

In nearby Shelby, a tearful Sandy Porter stood with her husband, Randy Porter, thinking back to the younger Witteveen they'd watched grow up "a few houses down."

"He was a good kid," she said. "He was full of life."

Meanwhile, among a circle of friends outside Hart High School stood Garrett Dennert, 16, whose brother, Jacob Dennert, 19, of Hart, is in Iraq with the same military company as Witteveen's.

The two went to Iraq together, Garrett Dennert said, with Witteveen completing boot camp soon after Jacob Dennert.

"This hits pretty close to home," Garrett Dennert said. "(Jacob) said it's been hard to cope with, and they had a funeral for Brett in Iraq."

From the Press

Related Link:
Brett A. Witteveen killed during combat operations