Another tree has been added to the rows of eastern redbud trees that border Fort Stewart’s 6th Street from Gulick Avenue to Bundy Street and separate Taylors Creek Golf Course from Cottrell Field and Quick Track. This 445th eastern redbud honors the ultimate sacrifice made by Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Wittman died Jan. 10 in Khogyani District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan from wounds incurred when his unit was attacked by small-arms fire during a mounted patrol. The 28-year-old Chester, Va., native and Citadel graduate comes from a family in which military service is a proud tradition, but his loss is just as heartbreaking to his parents, siblings and grandmother, who attended his tree dedication.
“As a former soldier, I think this is a wonderful tribute,” said Duane Wittman as he gazed down a row of redbud trees, some sprinkled with tiny purple blossoms. “It’s a unique way to honor our fallen soldiers.”
His wife Carol agreed, saying Warriors Walk is a wonderful way to honor her son and help their family through the process of grieving his loss. They said they had visited Warriors Walk before, just before Aaron deployed. Wittman said his son told them at that time he didn’t want his name among those who are honored there.
“But here we are,” he sighed, trying to smile as he remembered his son’s love for the Savannah area and the 3rd Infantry Division. “He loved the 3rd ID and died doing what he thought was best.”
Wittman’s parents spoke to media after the ceremony. Between smiles and tears, they painted a picture of a young man with a bright future, one that included plans to go to Officer Candidate School in September when he returned from this deployment. After receiving his commission, they said he planned to get married. Regarding his going to the Citadel and serving in the Army, his parents grinned, admitting they were both veterans. The senior Wittman is a Citadel graduate and retired Army major. Their other son, who also is a Citadel graduate, currently is serving in the Marine Corps. Their daughter is a Navy veteran.
They said Aaron was a member of the South Carolina National Guard while a cadet at the Citadel, which is in Charleston, S.C. In November 2007, he got the “warning order” that his Guard unit was deploying. His father said he had an option to stay and finish his senior year but chose to keep his commitment to the Guard. When he returned to the Citadel, he completed his course of study then decided not to accept a commission. He wanted to go on active duty as a noncommissioned officer.
“We never pushed our children to join the military,” Carol Wittman said. “We allowed them to make their own decisions.”
“We always tried to teach our children certain values,” Duane added. “I wish more people had the same values, but we’re very proud and happy our children served their country.”
Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear, was the guest speaker for the tree dedication. He welcomed Wittman’s family and friends, including two Marine officers who were Wittman’s classmates at the Citadel. Hort thanked the Wittman family for their sacrifice and their generational commitment to serving this country. He noted that their son and other family members represent less than one percent of Americans “who raise their right hand” and take an oath to defend this country and the U.S. Constitution.
“It appears to me, Aaron was a man who truly loved his country,” Hort said. “The love we feel for this soldier will not fade into the night. Aaron’s memory will forever reside in the hearts and minds of his family and those who served with him.”
Hort said the tree planted in Wittman’s honor will serve as a living memorial to his service and sacrifice.