Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Justin D. Wisniewski dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit'

STANDISH - Silence fell on Standish-Sterling Central High School at 2 p.m. Monday as a small community recognized Sgt. Justin D. Wisniewski with a moment of tribute.

Wisniewski, 22, of Standish died Saturday in Lutfiyah, Iraq, from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit, the Department of Defense said Monday.

"He served his country and provided us freedom," said Principal Mark Williams, who was assistant principal during the four years Wisniewski walked the school halls.

Wisniewski was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. The son of Dan and Cheryl Wisniewski of Standish, he was a 2003 graduate of Standish-Sterling Central.

"He served his country proudly, and for that, he'll be a distinguished alumni here at Standish-Sterling Central forever," said Standish Mayor Kevin King, a government teacher at the high school.

King said he had the pleasure of knowing Wisniewski for about the past 10 years, as a teacher and as a family friend.

"You go into teaching for many reasons," he said. "Having the ability to meet someone like Justin is one of those reasons. He just was a quality character, someone we flat-out will never forget."

At 6-foot-2-inches, Wisniewski was listed in high school as a lineman for the football team, weighing in at 235 pounds. And his personality was just as big.

"He had a knack for making everyone else around him happy," King said. "He was always happy - he had a million-dollar smile."

After graduation, Wisniewski decided to enlist in the military - along with good friend Andrew Dunn, who is now in New York awaiting deployment after he gets married in June to high school sweetheart Lauren Szostak. The two friends enlisted along with classmates Michael Stawowy and Matt Bonnau.

"He made a decision to serve his country in a time of war," King said of Wisniewski. "I think that says a lot about his character."

The military has not released details whether Saturday's death was an isolated incident or whether others were killed by the blast. Wisniewski was home a month ago and was due home again in August, friends said.

"He was actually the recipient of an Army Commendation Medal," Williams said. "And the reason why he received that is because he helped create a landing zone for a Med-Evac helicopter, which resulted in the survival of his injured platoon leader."

Wisniewski also had been a four-year member of the FFA, a leadership organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America.

In a May 2003 news article, Wisniewski - then a senior in high school - told The Times he planned to pursue a building career. He and his classmates from a building trades class had just finished constructing a home in Standish and were excited about showing it off.

King said he kept in touch with Wisniewski, and had the chance to catch up with him on trips home to Standish.

"I did see him just about every time he came home on leave," he said. "I saw him about five weeks ago and he was the same old Justin."

Funeral information is pending, though Williams said it likely will be held at the school to accommodate the many expected to attend. Some already paid tribute Monday, stopping to view the fallen soldier's military picture pinned to a school bulletin board.

"We had a good kid here," said Assistant Principal Gary Roper.

King said Wisniewski came from a very supportive family and has one brother, Jason, and two sisters, Jessica and Jodi.

Jessica, 24, has posted an online tribute, saying she'll spend the rest of her life remembering her brother.

"We have spent the last two years without him, the last two Christmases, the last two Thanksgivings," she wrote. "Now we will spend the rest of our lives without him."

With that, she also left these words from her brother: "If I don't make it out of this place, remember that I will always be your soldier. All you have to do is look to the sky and say my name and I will be there.

"I will protect you and watch over you."

From the Bay City Times