James Witkowski

SURPRISE, AZ, USA U.S. Army SGT, 729TH TRANSPORTATION COMPANY (MNC-I), FRESNO, CA ASHRAF, IRAQ 10/26/2005

Tim Ostapuk’s favorite memory of James Witkowski is at a friend’s house, with a stack of poker chips in front of him and loving the attention of women.

“I can’t believe you will never walk through our door again with that big smile, piercing baby blues and infective, positive energy,” Ostapuk wrote in a tribute. “We have lost a part of our family and the void seems to extend into eternity.”

Everyone called Witkowski by his nicknames “Uncle Jimmy,” “Wit” or “‘Ski.” He was known for engaging in battles of wit, playing softball, arm wrestling and drinking beer. He would happily sing the theme from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Even at war, Witkowski was known as a cut-up. He loved to play his Xbox into the wee hours and throw a football around the motor pool. Fellow soldiers recall seeing him with dip in his lip, head phones dangling over his ear and a smile on his face.

Sergeant James Witkowski loved his fellow soldiers. On Oct. 26, 2005, he gave his life for them.

That was the day Witkowski and about 100 soldiers in a 23-vehicle convoy were ferrying supplies from Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq, to Forward Operating Base Suse, northeast of Kirkuk.

“Ski” was in Iraq with the 729th Transportation Company out of Fresno, Calif. The 729th worked closely with the 1173rd Transportation Company of the Virginia National Guard.

The 32-year-old was posthumously awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for courage under fire for his actions on the day he died. He is the second Army Reserve soldier to earn the honor in the Iraqi theater.

“We were extremely proud,” Witkowski’s mother, Barbara, told Army Times. “If somebody had to do it, he probably would’ve been the one to do it. He probably never gave it a second thought. That was kind of how he was.”

Witkowski was the youngest of Barbara and Jim Witkowski’s three children. He was also their only son.

“He was very funny,” Barbara Witkowski said. “He had a very raucous sense of humor, which his mother didn’t always appreciate.”

Growing up in Surprise, Ariz., near Phoenix, James Witkowski was comfortable in his own skin. He had many friends, some he made when he was just 7 years old, his mother said.

The soldier never married. “His reasoning was it wasn’t fair to give himself to one lovely lady when all the lovely ladies needed him,” she said with a laugh.

James’ portrait is also located on Poster 2