Joseph Michael Weiglein
Staff Sergeant, United States Army
RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 678-07 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2007
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died May 29, 2007, in Ilbu Falris, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near their position during a dismounted patrol. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, New York.
Staff Sergeant Joseph M. Weiglein, 31, of Audubon,
For more information in regard to this release the media can contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at (315) 772-8286.
31 May 2007:
Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Weiglein , May 29, 2007
In January, students at Haviland Avenue Elementary School in the Camden County borough of Audubon waved hundreds of tiny American flags and let out a thunderous cheer as Staff Sergeant Joseph Michael Weiglein entered the auditorium to talk to them about life in the Army.
For months, the kids had been sending letters and packages to Weiglein, who grew up just two blocks from the school and was visiting them during a 15-day hiatus in his yearlong stint in Iraq.
Weiglein answered scores of questions, then showed the kids photos of members of his unit seated beneath the Christmas decorations the students had made for them.
"It was thunderous, it was absolutely thunderous," Principal Carleene Slowik said of the ovation. "He promised to come back and apologized that his men couldn't write as often as they wanted."
Late Tuesday, the news hit and spread like a flash across the town of 9,000 -- from the house of Weiglein's parents to their neighbors, across the bleachers at the Little League field and down into the dugouts: Weiglein had been killed in Iraq.
"Joe was our soldier," Slowik said yesterday. "This made it personal. There's a lot of hugging going on. A lot of sad kids."
The Department of Defense said Weiglein, 31, was one of two soldiers killed by a bomb while they were on foot patrol in Ilbu Falris. The other man was identified as Sergeant Richard V. Correa, 25, of Honolulu.
Weiglein is the 74th service member with ties to New Jersey to be killed in Iraq. He was on his second tour.
Weiglein lived with his wife, Jennifer, near Fort Drum, New York, where he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.
Yesterday, the lawn of Weiglein's parents' home, a corner house in the leafy 1.5-square-mile town near Cherry Hill, was festooned with two dozen American flags.
"We are all proud of Joey," his sister, Kate Albanese, said as she stood on the front porch. "He believed in what he was doing, so we believed in him."
Weiglein was a 1994 graduate of Audubon High School, where he played soccer. District Superintendent Donald Borden, who was a history teacher at the school when Weiglein attended, called him "the boy next door."
"Just a great kid," Borden said. "Appropriate, responsible, diligent, always a smile on his face."
Weiglein entered the Army the year after graduation, eventually deciding to make it his career.
He served one year in Korea, then moved to Fort Riley in Kansas, where he met his future wife. The couple moved to Tennessee, and he spent the next five years there working as a recruiter. When the war in Iraq started, he decided to rejoin the infantry, Albanese said.
"He just didn't feel right once the war had started and he was recruiting people and sending them over and wasn't there to fight himself," she said. "He knew that he would definitely be deployed."
THE MAKINGS OF A TEACHER
Albanese said her parents, Michael and Ellen, were too distraught to talk about their son's death.
At the elementary school yesterday, faculty members recalled the day in early January when Weiglein wowed students and teachers alike with his presentation and his patience. He answered the kids' questions about guns, about war, about the weather in Iraq and the food the soldiers ate.
Several people recalled that one student asked if he was ever scared in Iraq. His only fear, the sergeant replied, was losing one of his men.
"Not a thought for himself," Albanese said. "And that sums up the kind of person he was."
When it was over, Borden recalled, one of the teachers approached him and told him he should consider becoming a teacher when he left the military.
School officials met Wednesday morning to discuss how to break the news to the 600 children in the K-6 school.
Many had already heard the night before. But rather than make an announcement, officials decided to send a letter home to parents, delivering the news and alerting them that counselors would be made available at school the next day.
"We decided to tell the parents and let them decide how to process it," Borden said. "I'll be 52 in January, and I'm not sure how I'm going to process it."
Slowik, the school principal, said of the young students: "I'm not sure what they really understand. They know Joe is dead and he's not coming back. But I don't know if they know the full understanding of it. This is the first time some of the kids have experienced death in a very personal way. And we have a lot of support to offer them."
Back on the porch of the home where she and her brother grew up, Albanese said she was taken aback by the outpouring of support from the town.
"It's been quite overwhelming, the response," she said. "The friends and family that have been coming, it's been a blessing. It's wonderful to see how many people you can touch in a lifetime -- and it's only 31 years."
31 May 2007:
Schoolchildren lose a friend in IraqAn Audubon
school mourns "Joe the Soldier," who died this week in an explosion.
Sergeant Joseph M. Weiglein was beloved among the children. He was "Joe the Soldier" for the kids at Haviland Avenue Elementary School in tiny Audubon, New Jersey, a hometown boy fighting for them in far-away Iraq.
They eagerly adopted Joe as "their soldier." At Christmas, the school's 250 students packed up boxes of Tastykakes, cards and ornaments and mailed them to his squad of nine soldiers.
A big photo of Joe and his men just before they shipped out a year ago hung on the school's office door.
And now Staff Sergeant Joseph Michael Weiglein, 31, born and raised and schooled in close-knit Audubon, has died. his mother said he was killed Tuesday in an explosion in a town south of Baghdad.
When Joe came home on a 10-day leave in January, he visited the school and answered endless questions at a packed school assembly.
Where did he live? What did he eat? Was it scary? The students, who dressed in red, white and blue for him, loved the slides he showed them of the soldiers opening their gifts and cards. They gave him hand-made flags to bring back to the others.
"The roar of the crowd when he went into the auditorium that day, you would've sworn a rock star was going in," said Ellen Weiglein, Joe's mother. "They were so joyful to see him."
Yesterday, word of his death was just starting to ripple through the halls of Haviland, which goes from preschool to sixth grade.
Carleene Slowik, the school's principal, said counselors would be on hand to talk to students, but there was no plan for a schoolwide announcement.
"This is a hard one, believe me," Slowik said.
Yesterday, she said a fourth-grade student was getting a drink of water from the fountain outside her office.
"She said, 'Dr. Slowik, it's so very sad about Joe, isn't it?' "
"Then she said, 'You look sad,' and she came over and hugged me."
Michael Weiglein said his middle child had been in the Army for 12 years. He had moved around a lot - South Korea, Kansas, Kuwait, Tennessee and Georgia. His last assignment was as an infantry staff sergeant, based with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.
Michael said that before moving to Fort Drum, his son was working as a recruiter, but he longed to return to the regular infantry.
"He was not to be behind a desk," said Ellen Weiglein. "He needed to be up and doing."
His parents said he told them that his squad recently went out on patrols, looking for three U.S. soldiers who were abducted earlier this month.
"He believed in what he was doing," Ellen Weiglein said.
Also surviving are his sisters, Catharine Albanese and Michelle Hubbard.
At his old school, the Haviland students plan to honor him once more.
Slowik said the school will wait to hear from his wife, Jennifer, of Mexico, New York, to find out her wishes before planning their tribute.
"When we adopted Joe and brought him into our Haviland family, in the back of my mind, I thought, 'What if something happens? What am I going to say?' "
"We know Joe had a hard job to do," Slowik added. "We saw where he was and he was protecting us.
"And this is part of it."
Funeral services for Staff Sergeant Joseph Michael Weiglein, an Audubon native killed May 29, 2007, while serving in Iraq, have been announced.
Friends may call at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Vincent Pallotti Church, 901 Hopkins Road, Haddon Township, where Mass will be said at 7:30 p.m.
Final prayers of commendation and benediction will be conducted at the church beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Interment with full military honors will be in Arlington National Cemetery on a date to be determined.
Weiglein, 31, and another soldier were killed while on foot patrol when an improvised explosive device detonated. He was killed in Ilbu Falris, Iraq, and was with the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, New York.
A memorial foundation in Weiglein's name has been established. All contributions to the foundation may be sent to Healey Funeral Home, 9 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights 08035.
Flowers may be sent directly to the church.
Sergeant Joseph Weiglein will be buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and, thanks to a local community organization, a large part of his family will be there for it.
The Audubon Fathers Association arranged for two tour buses to bring the family to the burial, scheduled at 2 p.m.
"They've been through enough the last couple days," Audubon Police Chief and association member Thomas Tassi said.
Weiglein, 31, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, died May 29, 2007, in Ilbu Falris, Iraq, a victim of a bomb detonated as he searched for three soldiers.
The Fathers Association spent about $3,000 on the buses. The association is seeking donations to defray the costs for the transportation and refreshments to be served on the drive, Tassi said.
"It's mostly family. We're trying to give them the opportunity to travel together," Tassi said. "You don't have to worry about where you're going."
The Fathers Association has rallied around the Weiglein family since the soldier's death was announced. On Tuesday, they headed a drive to place American flags on every property in the borough. More than 3,000 flags were distributed.
"Really everybody in town helped out," Tassi
said. "Every organization from little kids to adults. It was great."
HOW TO HELP:
To make donations to pay for buses for the
Weiglein family, or to contribute to the family's scholarship fund, make
checks payable to the Audubon Fathers Association, c/o Audubon Police Department,
606 W. Nicholson Road, Audubon 08106. The organization has an account at
the Audubon Savings and Loan and checks should include a note that the
money is for the Weiglein fund.
Photo Courtesy of Holly, July 2007
Photo Courtesy of Holly, June 2007