John Thomas Wroblewski – Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Second Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski, 25, of Oak Ridge, New Jersey, died April 6, 2004, due to injuries received from hostile fire in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.  He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California.

9 April 2004:
Courtsy of The Daily Record:

040804wroblewski40.JPGShawn and John Wroblewski mourn the loss of their oldest son, Marine Ltieuenant John Thomas ‘J.T.,' as they remember him on the deck behind their Jefferson home on Thursday. Dawn Benko / Daily Record

JEFFERSON — Some of the Marines he commanded and admired were with Marine Lieutenant John Thomas “J.T.” Wroblewski when he died of his battle wounds on Wednesday in a hospital in Iraq, his parents said.

Mourning friends and relatives of Wroblewski, 25, the first Morris County soldier to die in Iraq, were drawing comfort from the realization that his fellow Marines had supported him and from the knowledge that he died doing what he loved.

“We could not be with him, but they were,” Lieutenant Wroblewski's mother, Shawn, said of the Marines who were at her oldest son's bedside when he died.

Shawn Wroblewski was with her husband and their three other sons on Thursday at the family's longtime Michele Road home. A steady stream of well-wishers dropped off food and offered condolences.

John and Shawn Wroblewski have lived in Jefferson for 27 years.

“You see it on TV, you read it in the paper, it's always somebody else. I never would have imagined,” she said.

“My firstborn, what a loss.”

Lieutenant Wroblewski's father, John Walter Wroblewski, said his son was wounded on Tuesday in Ramadi, where at least 12 Americans lost their lives in some of the fiercest fighting since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.

“We want everybody to know that he was a hero, and he died a hero,” Wroblewski said, pointing out pictures and other reminders throughout the house of his son's short, proud stint in the Marines.

A brother, David Wroblewski, 20, who started a landscaping business with Lt. Wroblewski's encouragement, spoke of his family's loss.

“I want to get the person that got him, but I can't. I'll leave that up to the trained professionals,” he said.

At sunrise on Thursday, the family lowered the American flag on their garage to half-staff and attached a plate, with his name and second lieutenant rank, above the door.

“He's everything I would want to be — loyal, honest, hardworking,” said David Wroblewski.

Funeral arrangements have not been determined, and family members do not know when Lieutenant Wroblewski's body will be returned to the United States.

“I just don't want to bury him on his birthday,” Shawn Wroblewski said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski would have turned 26 on April 16.

News of Lieutenant Wroblewski's death hit hard in Jefferson, a close-knit town of just under 20,000 that had not suffered a U.S. military fatality since the Vietnam War, according to Councilman Brooke Hardy.

“We read in the news about deaths in Iraq, the 600 soldiers, and of course it bothers you to hear about anyone killed, but it really hits home when it's someone you know,” said Police Sergeant Eric Wilsusen, who visited the family's home.

Counselors were available on Thursday at Jefferson High School, where Lieutenant Wroblewski was a standout athlete and graduated in 1996.

The school's principal, Dennis Nick, said he choked up while announcing the death on the loudspeaker.

“It really brought the war right into the community,” Nick said. “It's a shocker … It just shook the foundation of the school.”

On Thursday, the three brothers managed smiles as they reflected on happier times.

Michael Wroblewski, 24, recalled his brother's bachelor party last year. Lieutenant Wroblewski wanted something low-key, so they and some friends played paintball in West Milford and set up a bonfire and grill in the backyard.

“He was my best friend. I always looked up to him,” Michael Wroblewski said.

Richard Wroblewski, 18, a freshman at Iona College, had just finished football practice on Tuesday when he learned that his brother had been injured. He recalled how he had been unsure about playing college football, and how his oldest brother's encouragement spurred him to try out for the team.

“He was everything to me,” Richard Wroblewski said.

On Thursday, John Walter Wroblewski walked through the backyard, where a chin-up station and dip bar that his son built to train for the Marines still stands.

“He bought the 4-by-4s, mixed the concrete, dug the holes,” his father said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski gave his parents a photo on the living room wall with a quote from President Reagan — “some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference to the world, but the Marines don't have that problem.”

Lieutenant Wroblewski married Joanna, a Washington Township native, in July. They were living at Camp Pendleton when he was deployed to Iraq in July.

“They were just like two peas in a pod. They were just meant for each other,” Michael Wroblewski said.

“The love that they had for each other was just unbelievable,” added Lieutenant Wroblewski's father. “When God made her, he stamped her, Marine wife. It's not an easy life.”

Joanna remained at Camp Pendleton on Thursday, he said.

“My heart goes out to her. They've only been married nine months,” he said.

From the driveway, David Wroblewski looked at the family's front lawn. He described ripping up the yard last year and laying down topsoil with his oldest brother.

“Every time I cut it, I'll think of him,” he said.

“He died protecting the country so we can live free and do what we do every day,” he said.

Lieuenant Wroblewski's death was keenly felt by another Jefferson parent with a Marine son in Iraq. Marine Sergeant William Knipper IV, 24, is a machine gun instructor at the 1st Division headquarters battalion in Fallujah, said his father, former township councilman William Knipper.

He first went to Iraq last year and returned for a second stint in February, Knipper said of his son.

“My son is a trained warrior. That's what he does,” Knipper said. “I wish he were home, but that's not the way it worked out.”

Lieutenant Chris Doyle of Alexandria, Virginia, a Florham Park native, served with Lieutenant Wroblewski in officer candidate school in Quantico, Virginia, in 2002.

“He was real easygoing, but not to a fault. He worked hard,” Doyle said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski commanded about 40 Marines in a 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines unit that was nicknamed the “Magnificent Bastards,” his father said, adding that he often referred to his fellow Marines as an extended family.

“He loved his men,” John Walter Wroblewski said. “He would say, ‘Dad, these guys are like Dave, Rich and Mike.'”

He and his wife last heard from their son in a letter received on Monday.

Tuesday's ambush and three-hour gun battle in Ramadi began when Marines stopped to investigate a white civilian pickup left next to a wall on a footpath on a dusty street, U.S. officials said.

Ramadi is 18 miles from Fallujah. Both cities have been a base for insurgents looking to oust the U.S.-led occupation.

Lieutenant Wroblewski's wife told her in-laws in a phone call on Tuesday evening that he had been seriously wounded. John and Shawn Wroblewski summoned their children and began a vigil that lasted until 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, when two Marines and a chaplain arrived to deliver the sad news.

“They were very professional and they were also very calm,” John Walter Wroblewski said.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks persuaded Lieutenant Wroblewski, a Rutgers University graduate, to join the Marines, his father said. He left Camp Pendleton for Kuwait in mid-February and was in Iraq for little more than a month.

More than 1,000 turn out for funeral for fallen Jefferson Marine
By Rob Jennings, Courtesy of the Daily Record

jtwroblewski-photo-usmc-01WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — More than 1,000 people attended a funeral Mass on Wednesday for Marine Second Lieutenant John Thomas “J.T.” Wroblewski, Morris County's first fatality in Iraq.

Wroblewski's widow, Joanna, and father, John, delivered eulogies at the start of the 10:30 a.m. service, held at Our Lady of the Mountain Church.

“He often spoke about the honor it was for him to serve this country,” John Wroblewski said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski, 25, a native of Jefferson, died two weeks ago after being wounded in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

He will be buried Friday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

13 April 2004
Posted from the Daily Record newsroom
Jefferson Marine died a hero, says his widow
By Rob Jennings, Daily Record

WASHINGTON TWP., NEW JERSEY – Marine Lieutenant John Thomas “J.T.” Wroblewski was mortally wounded while attempting to rescue fellow Marines from an Iraqi ambush, his widow said Monday night.

“He died saving his men,” Lieutenant Wroblewski's wife of nine months, Joanna, said in recounting how military officials described her husband's actions last Tuesday during some of the fiercest fighting since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.

Lieutenant Wroblewski, 25, a Jefferson native who commanded about 40 Marines in a 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines unit nicknamed the “Magnificent Bastards,” boarded a convoy with his men after learning that Marines were under attack in Ramadi.

Along the way, Lieutenant Wroblewski's unit was ambushed, his widow said. Several Marines were shot and fell from the vehicles to the ground.

Lieutenant Wroblewski jumped out and was shot in the head while assisting the wounded Marines, she said. He was rushed to a hospital elsewhere in Iraq.

There, Marines from his unit surrounded his bed.

“They asked, ‘How are you? Are you in any pain,'” Joanna Wroblewski said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski couldn't speak, she said, but managed a final upbeat gesture.

“He gave a thumbs-up,” and then shortly afterward, slipped away, she said through her tears.

Joanna Wroblewski, 25, said she had asked to hear exactly what happened to her husband.

“I needed to know it,” she said.

On Monday night, she was at her parents' house and wearing one of her husband's Marine shirts and an “I Love My Marine” button. Friends and family were offering comfort, one night after her flight back from Camp Pendleton in California.

“My husband died a hero. Nobody had to tell me that. Each of his 40 men was his son. His Marines came first,” she said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski, the first Morris County fatality in Iraq, will be buried with full military honors April 23, 2004, in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

It was what her husband wanted, she said, adding that someday she will be buried next to him.

Joanna Wroblewski said she believes her husband, a second lieutenant, knew he wasn't coming back alive from Iraq.

They spoke by phone three times during his time in Iraq. Their last conversation was four days before the ambush in Ramadi. There was something different about that call, she said. “Every call, we ended with, “I'll see you soon.' That last call, he said, ‘I'll always be with you,'” Joanna Wroblewski said. “I think God told him he wasn't coming back,” she said.

John and Joanna Wroblewski met in a self-defense class at County College of Morris in 1998. She was quickly smitten with a man she described as extremely handsome but also gentle and intelligent.

She said she knew she wanted to marry him after dating for six months.

They were married last July, nearly two years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that had convinced her husband to become a Marine.

Last February 14, while stationed at Camp Pendleton, Lieutenant Wroblewski learned he was heading to Iraq. He would not leave until the following night, giving the couple two full days to talk and make plans.

Joanna Wroblewski said her husband told her that she would make a wonderful mother and should remarry if he didn't return. It was a thought she didn't want to contemplate.

Last Tuesday, after learning he had been seriously wounded, she contacted her in-laws, John and Shawn Wroblewski of Jefferson. Other Marine wives stayed by her side at Camp Pendleton.

“I prayed and prayed,” she said.

Then, on Wednesday, the Marines notified her that her husband had died. At the same time, her husband's parents and three younger brothers were receiving the tragic news in Jefferson.

“I thought I'd die that day,” she said.

Joanna Wroblewski said her husband would not have regretted his choice to join the Marines, and she stood by it as well.

“He was a Marine through and through,” she said.

Dying while helping his fellow Marines “was the only way he was going to go out,” she said.

Lieutenant Wroblewski's father, John, agreed with the decision to bury his son at Arlington National Cemetery. His body arrived in the United States last Friday, John Wroblewski said.

“There's no more fitting place. That's where he belongs,” he said Monday.

Sitting on a couch, Joanna Wroblewski looked at pictures from their wedding last summer. They showed a beaming young couple.

“He never saw his wedding pictures. I just got them this weekend,” she said.

“My husband and I had a very special love. It lasted only six years. But it was the best six years of my life,” she said.

23 April 2004:

All of N.J. to honor Jefferson Marine

U.S. and state flags will fly at half-staff in New Jersey today as Marine Lieutenant John Thomas “J.T.” Wroblewski, a Jefferson native, is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“Lieutenant Wroblewski's patriotism and dedicated service to his country make him a hero and a true role model for all Americans,” reads Executive Order No. 105, signed by Governor James E. McGreevey.

Wroblewski, 25, Morris County's first fatality in the Iraqi war, died two weeks ago after being wounded in Ramadi. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral Wednesday at Our Lady of the Mountain Church in Washington Township.

Today's burial at Arlington, the final resting place for tens of thousands of the nation's greatest heroes, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wroblewski's widow, Joanna; his parents, John and Shawn Wroblewski; and younger brothers Mike, Dave and Rich, will be among the mourners.

A police escort will accompany Wroblewski's hearse when it departs the William J. Leber Funeral Home in Chester at 5:30 a.m. about the same time, a bus with more than three dozen friends of Wroblewski's family will depart from the Rockaway Townsquare mall to Arlington.

24 April 2004:

‘Now he's a part of history'
Jefferson Marine laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery
By Rob Jennings, Daily Record


ARLINGTON, Virginia — Marine Second Lieutenant John Thomas “J.T.” Wroblewski, Morris County's first fatality in the Iraq war, was laid to rest with full military honors on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wroblewski's widow, Joanna, parents John and Shawn Wroblewski and younger brothers Mike, Dave and Rich led nearly 200 mourners in a stirring, final tribute.

“My son was a history buff. Now he's part of history. This is a place where heroes are resting,” John Wroblewski said after the ceremony.

He described the 25-minute burial service for his son as “very reverential … done with so much respect.

“It's just such a powerful thing that leaves you in awe,” he said.

Seven Marines fired three shots each during the graveside ceremony.

A family friend, the Rev. Matthew Twiggs of St. John Vianney Church in Stockholm, offered a blessing.

“It's a proper burial for a young man who gave up his life for his country,” Twiggs said afterward. “Being part of that is an honor.”

Lieutenant Wroblewski, 25, a Jefferson native, died earlier this month after being wounded in Ramadi. On Wednesday, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral in Washington Township.

A hearse with Lieutenant Wroblewski's casket departed from a Chester funeral home at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, accompanied by police vehicles. Shortly after 1 p.m., a horse-drawn caisson bearing the casket reached the cemetery's Section 60, where space is set aside for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Joanna Wroblewski emerged from a car and was escorted to the gravesite by a Marine. She was followed by her husband's parents and brothers.

After the American flag that covered the casket was folded, Marine Captain Martin Lewis walked to where the widow was sitting. Lewis knelt, presented her with the flag and spoke with her. He then stood and saluted.

Among those watching was Betsy Ficken of Jefferson, whose son, Marine Sergeant Willliam H. Knipper IV, is in Iraq.

“What was going through my head was the amount of pride I have in my country,” Ficken said afterward.

Joe Corazza of Sparta, an assistant prosecutor for Sussex County, took the day off to attend the burial. Corazza graduated from Jefferson High School in 1992, four years ahead of Lieutenant Wroblewski.

“I just felt I should come,” Corazza said. “I can respect what he did and be thankful. It's the least I can do to show my respect.”

Corazza was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and saw the second hijacked airliner hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. The terrorist attack would cement Lieutenant Wroblewski's decision to join the Marines.

Lieutenant Wroblewski left Camp Pendleton in California for Kuwait in mid-February and was in Iraq by early March. He was fatally wounded April 6, 2004, while rescuing his fellow Marines from an ambush, his widow said last week.

“It's a tragedy. He's 25 years old yet … he was out there looking out for us,” Corazza said.

Another mourner, Linda Kerr of Roxbury, met Shawn Wroblewski more than two decades ago during a difficult period in her life. Kerr's 2-year-old son, Jeffrey, had been diagnosed with cancer and could not attend Jefferson's annual “bunny brunch” at Easter time, so Shawn Wroblewski dressed as the Easter bunny, came to the Kerr home and entertained Jeffrey, who later recovered fully.

“This happened to us,” Kerr said. “We're not going because it's Arlington National Cemetery and we want to see that. We're going to support the family.”

Kerr was among about 40 friends and admirers of Wroblewski who met at 5:30 a.m. Friday in Rockaway Township to take a chartered bus to Arlington.

Also on the bus was Steve Hannaway of Bloomingdale, a guidance counselor at Jefferson High School, who said he attended the burial to represent those at the school who couldn't make it.

“A lot of people would have liked to have gone,” Hannaway said.

Reporters were kept about 70 feet away from the ceremony. Kerr described the graveside experience as “unreal.”

“I expected them to do the military band. I expected the gun salute. But when I saw the horse-drawn caisson, I lost it,” Kerr said.

Josephine DeVoe and Valerie Ciaburri, both of Jefferson, thought at first that the family might prefer to keep the burial private. DeVoe said that John and Shawn Wroblewski assured them that they wanted their friends there. All were invited to a reception afterward at Fort Meyer, adjacent to the cemetery.

“The outpouring of people was just a tremendous tribute to our son. For most, it was a five-hour drive or more,” said John Wroblewski.

A high school baseball teammate of Lieutenant Wroblewski, Mike Petershack, drove to Arlington with two friends. Petershack, who lives in Jefferson and works for the township's public works department, said he wasn't surprised that Lt. Wroblewski had indicated to his wife before he went to Iraq that he would want an Arlington burial.

Petershack paused when asked what he best remembered about his old friend. “I could say so much stuff you wouldn't have enough ink in this pen,” he said.

Two Who Died Days Apart in Iraq Honored at Arlington
Lieutenant Praised as Natural Leader; Sergeant Awarded Bronze Star
By Elaine Rivera
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Saturday, April 24, 2004

Two servicemen who were killed two days apart in Iraq — a Marine officer who was trying to help his injured men and an Army Sergeant who died with seven other soldiers in an attack — were laid to rest yesterday in Arlington National Cemetery.

On a warm spring day under a bright sun, family and friends of Marine Second Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski and Army Sergeant Yihjyh L. Chen came to honor the slain servicemen.

Wroblewski, 25, of Oak Ridge, New Jersey, received a full honors funeral. “The President's Own” U.S. Marine Band and a marching element of the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company preceded the caisson carrying the casket. The mournful notes of taps, played by a bugler, and the sound of the three-round volleys from a seven-man firing party filled the air.

Wroblewski's family, including his wife, Joanna, and his parents, John and Shawn Wroblewski, were at his graveside. Captain Martin Lewis presented his wife with the American flag.

Wroblewski was killed April 6, 2004, when he was shot in the face while aiding his men in Al Anbar Province, Joanna Wroblewski said. She said her husband, who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., was leading a convoy to help other Marines under fire. Their vehicle came under fire, and some of Wroblewski's men fell to the ground after being shot.

“He jumped down to be with them, he was holding their hands and calling the medics” when he was mortally wounded, she said. As he was being transported, he gave a thumbs up to his men before he died, she said.

“His Marines were like his sons,” she said. “When they told me he died, I knew he had gone down as a hero.”

She said her husband was beloved by everyone who knew him.

“He was a natural born leader,” she said. “I would have followed him through fire.”

John Wroblewski, the slain Marine's father, said his oldest son was resolute about joining the military.

“When God made him, he stamped ‘Marine' on his forehead,” said John Wroblewski, who has three younger sons. “He was a fine young man with strong core values. He loved God, he loved his wife, he loved his family, he loved his country and he loved the U.S. Marine Corps.”

He described his son as generous and committed to his men. He limited his telephone conversations with his family while in Iraq, the elder Wroblewski said, because he wanted to ensure that all of the Marines assigned to him were able to call home first.

“He let the guys use the phone,” Wroblewski said. “It was first the men who had children and went on down like that.”

He said he recently received a letter from his son in which he described morale as high.

“He sounded very upbeat,” Wroblewski said. “He said the Iraqis would thank him and be very appreciative. We don't hear about that.”

Earlier in the day, graveside services were held for Chen, 31, of U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, who was one of eight soldiers killed April 4, 2004, in Baghdad when their units were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, according to the Department of Defense.

Chen was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Chen, of Saipan, Marianas Protectorate, was given a standard honors funeral. As a U.S. Army firing party fired three volleys, soldiers held an American flag over his casket. The flag was later presented to his parents, Cheng-Pin and Yu Mei Chen, along with his medals. A Buddhist monk chanted over the casket. Near the end of the service, a small butterfly appeared and flew by.

jtwroblewski-funeral-photo-001A Marine honor guard carries the coffin containing the remains of Second Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski, during a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Friday, April 23, 2004

jtwroblewski-funeral-photo-003Marines carry the casket of Marine Second Lieutenant John Thomas ‘J.T.' Wroblewski to the final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

funeral24p2Joanna Wroblewski, center, widow of Second Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski, said “his Marines were like his sons.” He was killed while helping wounded Marines.

jtwroblewski-funeral-photo-002The widow of Marine Second Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski, Joanna Wroblewski, left, weeps as Captain Martin Lewis, right, hands the American flag that draped her husband's coffin during a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Friday, April 23, 2004


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/16/1978
  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/06/2004




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