November 18, 2004
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Scott Williams
Waukesha - With an outpouring of grief for a fallen son, Waukesha residents Thursday laid to rest a young Marine who died living out his last adventure.
After the funeral for Marine Cpl. Robert P. Warns II, students from St. Mary's Elementary School line Newhall Ave. in Waukesha as the hearse goes by. Warns died Nov. 8 in Iraq.
Robert P. Warns II, 23, who was killed in fighting in Iraq, was remembered by family and friends as a spirited young man who died before he could embark on his next exciting mission - parenthood.
His pregnant girlfriend, Erin Nielsen, told mourners at St. Mary's Catholic Church that Warns had dreamed of becoming a father and that she is certain he will watch over his son or daughter from beyond.
"He was so excited," Nielsen said. "He had something to look forward to when he came home."
Warns, a 1999 graduate of Catholic Memorial High School, was killed Nov. 8 along with two other Marines less than two months after their reserve unit arrived in Iraq.
According to a military statement distributed to mourners Thursday, Warns and the others - Shane K. O'Donnell, 24, of De Forest, and Brandon Ramey, 22, of Belvidere, Ill. - died when their vehicle struck a land mine south of Baghdad.
Twenty-eight Wisconsin soldiers have been killed in the U.S.-led mission in Iraq.
Father Brian Mason, pastor of St. Mary's, expressed the anguish of an entire community when he recounted the loss of a young man who was baptized and had grown up as a member of the parish.
"One of my kids has been killed," Mason said. "I didn't know what to think, I didn't know what to feel."
The church maintains a gallery of photographs of more than a dozen congregation members on active duty in the military. Below the photo of Warns are the words no family wants to see: killed in action.
Family recalls loved one
Several family members took turns sharing memories of Warns, describing him as a rambunctious youth, an athlete with an artistic side and a brother who was not above typical childhood pranks.
"Such a rascal," exclaimed his sister, Katie Riesch, who recounted when Warns got a bunch of friends into a sold-out rock concert by using his artistic skills to scrawl fake passes on their hands.
Others described the fallen soldier's softer side.
His mother, Bridget Warns, said she always feared that her son would outgrow any interest in showing her affection. But even after reaching adulthood, she said, the son she knew as "Bobby" never hesitated to hold hands or hug her.
"I will thank God every day for that incredible gift," she said.
A near-capacity crowd of about 1,000 mourners, including Gov. Jim Doyle, turned out for services at St. Mary's, followed by a military burial at St. Joseph Cemetery, complete with bagpipes and a Marine gun salute.
Young children lined the street to wave American flags as the procession headed toward the cemetery.
Under overcast skies on a mild November afternoon, tears flowed down mourners' faces as they gathered around the casket at St. Joseph and sang the Irish ballad "Danny Boy."
A Marine official read a declaration awarding Warns the Purple Heart.
Friends say Warns was an adventurer who joined the Marines at age 18 almost immediately after graduating from high school.
He attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was a business student entering his senior year when he was called to active duty in June as a corporal in a Madison-based unit of the 24th Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
"Bob is my knight in shining armor, the one every girl dreams of," said his girlfriend, who told mourners she and Warns met during his freshman year of college.
Warns and his battalion arrived in Iraq on Sept. 15 - 54 days before Warns was killed.
In correspondence home, Warns repeatedly offered family members reassurances, showing concern for their comfort rather than his own. A letter his parents received shortly after his death included a note asking God to "watch over my family."
His father, Robert Warns, described a son who displayed leadership qualities from a very young age.
He then paid tribute to his son in military fashion, tearfully reciting a passage of a Marine hymn and declaring: "Corporal Robert P. Warns II is at his post and is on duty."
With that, the father turned to the closed casket and bid farewell with a crisp salute.
November 10, 2004
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Scott Williams
Waukesha - A Marine who joined the military just days after graduating from Catholic Memorial High School in 1999 has been killed in Iraq.
Robert Paul Warns II, a 1999 graduate of Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, was killed in Iraq Monday.
Robert Paul Warns II, 23, whose unit arrived in Iraq less than two months ago, was killed Monday "as a result of enemy action," according to a statement issued today by the military.
News of Wisconsin's 25th casualty in Iraq sent shock waves today through Catholic Memorial High School, where Warns was remembered as a likable student who was intent on becoming a Marine.
"It's a very emotional time for us," Principal Kathleen Cepelka said. "It brings the conflict home for us."
Cepelka led the high school in a prayer for Warns, whom she said enlisted in the Marines "to serve his country, to serve his community and to serve his god."
A corporal in a Madison-based unit of the 24th Marine Regiment 2nd Battalion, Warns was in the same unit as Lance Cpl. Shane K. O'Donnell, 24, of DeForest, who also was killed Monday and became the state's 24th casualty in Iraq.
Both were reported killed south of Baghdad, although Marines spokesman Terry Bellis said it was not yet clear if the two Wisconsin men had died together.
Known as "Bobby" to family and friends, Warns joined the Marines just days after high school and continued serving while he attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was a business student in his senior year at UWM when he was deployed to Iraq.
His unit was activated in June and arrived in Iraq in late September.
According to a statement issued by his family through their church, St. Mary's Parish in Waukesha, Warns enjoyed drawing and other artistic crafts. In high school, he wrestled, ran track and played tennis.
"He was an awesome brother and a very loving son," the statement said. "He loved life and lived every day to the fullest."