AUDUBON, NJ, USA U.S. Army SSG, COMPANY A, 2D BATTALION, 14TH INFANTRY, FORT DRUM, NY ILBU FALRIS, IRAQ 05/29/2007
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. Sergeant Weiglein was beloved among the children. He was “Joe the Soldier” for the kids, a hometown boy fighting for them in far-away Iraq.
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.”
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 showed the kid’s photos of members of his unit seated beneath the Christmas decorations the students had made for them. Principal Carleene Slowik said. “He promised to come back and apologized that his men couldn’t write as often as they wanted.” After the assembly, one of the teachers approached him and told him he should consider becoming a teacher when he left the military
Late Tuesday, the news hit and spread like a flash across the town of 9,000 — from Weiglein’s parents house 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,”
Weiglein lived with his wife, Jennifer, near Fort Drum, New York, where he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.
“We are all proud of Joey,” his sister, Kate Albanese, “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 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.
“Not a thought for himself,” Albanese said. “And that sums up the kind of person he was.” It’s wonderful to see how many people you can touch in a lifetime – and it’s only 31 years.”