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 heart-breaking to his parents, siblings and grandmother who attended his tree dedication.
“As a former soldier, I think this is a wonderful tribute,” said the sergeant’s father, Duane Wittman, as he gazed down the row or 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 admitted they had visited Warriors Walk before, just before their son 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.”
Aaron Wittman’s parents graciously 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.
When asked about Wittman’s time at 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 is also a Citadel graduate, is currently 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, located 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 explained. “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.”
Read more in the Feb. 23 edition of the News.