Michael Richard Woodliff – Sergeant, United States Army

News Release from the United States Department of Defense

No. 146-04
Mar 04, 2004

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Specialist Michael R. Woodliff, 22, of Port Charlotte, Florida, died March 2, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device struck his convoy.  Woodliff was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Friedberg, Germany.

            The incident is under investigation.

For further information related to this release, contact Army Public Affairs at (703) 692-2000.

A local casualty
Punta Gorda soldier killed in Humvee bombing
Courtsy of the Herald Tribune

PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA – Michael Woodliff was intense. He sometimes ran through the streets with a pack on his back. He lifted weights with ferocity, and in his junior year at Charlotte High School, he joined the wrestling team. With little experience and not much technique, he willed himself to become district runner-up within a year.

But Woodliff's goal wasn't a Division I scholarship; he was preparing himself for the rigors of war.

“Everything he did, he did to help him become a better soldier,” said his brother, Matthew. “He was very passionate about it.”

Woodliff joined the Army in May 2000, but his short career ended Tuesday when an explosion ripped through the Humvee in which the 22-year-old Specialist was riding. Woodliff died later in the day in a Baghdad medical facility.

“Mike died a happy man because he was doing what he always talked about and loved,” said Quinton Williams, 21, a close friend.

Woodliff is the second Charlotte High School wrestler to die in Iraq within the past year. Brian Buesing, a Marine Corps lance corporal, died last March in an ambush. Buesing was on the team during his freshman year in 1996.

Family and friends gathered Wednesday at the family home in Punta Gorda to talk with an Army representative and make arrangements for Woodliff's memorial service and burial.

A party decoration from Woodliff's mother's February 22 birthday still hung on the wall, but any celebrating ended Tuesday, when the family learned of his death. That afternoon, an Army sergeant stopped at the Punta Gorda investment firm where his father, Lee, works to personally deliver the news.

‘In his blood'

On Wednesday, sobs punctuated silences, and family members embraced tightly. Crying had reddened the family's eyes.

Woodliff was remembered as a strong-willed but funny man who was always the center of attention. He also had a strong sense of duty.

“He was what they call a good bully,” said his mother, Janine. “He would stick up for all the kids on the playground (in grade school).”

“He was strong, strong as any kid we had pound for pound,” said Ron Schuyler, an assistant principal at Charlotte High who was Woodliff's wrestling coach. “When he grabbed hold of you, you knew it.”

One of his moves left such an impression — it often made the difference between winning and losing a match — that coaches renamed it “The Woodliff.”

Three of the eight wrestlers on the 2000 Charlotte High team went on to the military.

“They were perfect, and for the service they were tough,” Schuyler said. “Hard-nosed, and they wanted to make a difference.”

Woodliff, whose father is a retired Army Major, had wanted to be a soldier since he was a child.

“I think it was in his blood,” his mother said.

Woodliff enlisted in the Army on a delayed entry program the summer after his junior year. To get permission to enlist, he tricked his parents.

His mother said she knew he was going to enlist because he talked of it constantly.

“You're going into the service over my dead body,” she often responded. More than once she shooed away recruiters who stopped by the house.

The summer after junior year, Woodliff asked his parents to sign a waiver so he could take a physical exam at the Army recruiting station in Port Charlotte. The paper was actually a parental consent form, and Woodliff returned home proclaiming that he had enlisted.

He wouldn't report for duty until after senior year, in May 2000.

In the Army, Woodliff was offered a coveted position with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (known as “The Old Guard”), which serves as the escort to the president. His family was thrilled, but he declined the offer.

“He didn't want to do something like that because it would be too boring,” Williams, his friend, said.

What he wanted was assignment to Iraq. He got it in April 2003.

Several times, he narrowly avoided death, family members said. Last year, a man ran at Woodliff and his unit. The man screamed as he ripped open his shirt, exposing a bomb. He pushed the detonator, but the bomb malfunctioned.

“He said it was the longest second he ever had,” Woodliff's brother Andrew said. “He and his guys never talked about it again.”

Woodliff, who re-enlisted for another three years this year, was just eight days away from coming home in January, when the military aborted his leave. He had planned to marry Crystal Steward. They had made tentative plans for a February wedding.

Woodliff had recently been selected for a promotion to Sergeant, but it had not taken effect, his father said. After his service in Iraq, he planned to move with Steward to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he would take Special Forces training.

But in recent weeks the fighting in Iraq had intensified and Woodliff had became concerned. During his last conversation with his parents in mid- February, Woodliff said he “had a bad feeling,” his mother recalled.

The dangers were underscored when Woodliff narrowly escaped from a building that had been wired with explosives.

Back home, a somber reality has settled on family and friends.

“We wanted to get married so bad and loved each other so much,” Steward said. “I don't know how anyone is going to measure up to him.”

A wedding dress hangs in her closet. The 19-year-old Charlotte High School graduate planned to wear it when she and Woodliff married.

Everything is there but the veil. She ordered it in January, and it is on the way.


Crystal Steward, 19, holds a photograph of her fiance, Army Spccialist 4 Michael
Woodliff, who died Tuesday after an explosion ripped through the Humvee in
which the 22-year-old Charlotte High School graduate was riding in Iraq Woodliff's
body was flown to Dover, Delaware, this week and will be sent to Punta Gorda
for the memorial service. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Woodliff is survived by his parents, Lee and Janine; and by brothers Steven, 23, Matthew, 20, and Andrew 19.

4 March 2004
Local man killed in Iraq

Family recalls fun-loving youngster

With a knock on the door, the war struck home for the Woodliff family of Punta Gorda Tuesday afternoon.

Lee and Janine Woodliff lost their son. His three brothers lost a sibling. And Crystal Steward lost a fiance.

But, the family and several close friends remembered Michael R. Woodliff, 22, more with smiles than tears, as they gathered around their kitchen table Wednesday.

They described “Mike,” who graduated Charlotte High School in 2000, as a fun-loving, prank-pulling youngster who lived to serve others and always dreamt of serving in the military.

“He died doing what he talked about to everybody, and talked about forever,” said his brother, Andrew Woodliff, 19.

“Being in the military is the most respectable job you can have,” Andrew added. “You put your life on the line for your country and the people you love, and, not that it's a low paying job, but you don't expect anything for it.”

“It was a soldier's death,” added Matt Woodliff, 20, another brother.

Michael, a specialist 4 in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne, was killed Tuesday in Baghdad when guerrillas threw a bomb into his Humvee. A second occupant of the vehicle was seriously wounded, according to Reuters reports.

Michael worked to patrol Baghdad and seek out guerrillas identified by U.S. authorities.

It was a dangerous job that, from time to time, led him to bust through walls into booby-trapped buildings and to engage in hand-to-hand combat, members of his family said.

But, earlier this year, his comrades nicknamed him “Lucky.” The name came after an Iraqi man approached with a bomb strapped around his waist. The man pulled the cord, but the bomb failed to go off, family members said.

Earlier, Michael had told his fiancee he had narrowly escaped unharmed when his camp came under fire.

“He said, ‘Sweetie, if we had camped just 30 feet away, I might not be telling you this,'” Steward said.

Within the past two weeks, Michael told his fiancee in an e-mail that he was facing “another day of hell.”

He told his family he had been recently assigned to ride as “point” — the first in — on missions.

“I got the sense from his second to last call, it had started getting more intense,” said his mother, Janine Woodliff.

Her son said he had been on a three-day mission, but couldn't reveal where.

“I said, ‘Are you scared?'” said his mother.

“‘Yes, mom,'” he replied. “He said he was worried.”

Tuesday's attack was described as a “separate incident” from the terrorist attack that rained a bloodbath down on Shiite worshippers at a mosque in Baghdad Tuesday. More than 180 were killed.

Michael's death brought to 279 the number of Americans killed under fire since the U.S. invaded Iraq last March. He was the third soldier with local connections to die in the war.

Preceding him were Marine Sgt. Brian McGinnis of Delaware, who was killed in a helicopter crash last year, and Marine Lance Corporal Brian Rory Buesing, who was killed March 23, 2003 in a firefight.

McGinnis' parents live in Englewood and Buesing attended Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda in 1996-97.

Michael grew up in a military family. His father, Lee, retired as a Major in the U.S. Army in the mid 1990s.

Michael spent his early childhood years living near U.S. bases in Hawaii, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey and Germany.

His grandfather, a colonel, and great-grandfather also served in the military, his mother said.

As Michael's graduation from high school neared, however, his mother took steps to avoid visits from the local recruitment officer. She didn't want her son to join.

But, Michael got his mom to sign a form allowing him to join on the ruse that she was merely approving a physical test.

Janine Woodliff learned she'd been tricked when her son came home exclaiming, “I joined! I joined!”

“I had all that I could do not to clobber that (recruitment) sergeant,” Janine Woodliff quipped. “But, I knew he was going to join. It was in his blood.”

“Everything he wanted to do (in the military) he did,” said Quinton Williams, who graduated from Charlotte High School with Michael in 2000.

Michael went through jump school and had begun training for the Army's special forces when he got dispatched to Iraq.

Williams said he joined the Army the same day — two days after graduating high school.

“Mike talked me into it,” he explained.

Steward said she met Michael on the school bus as a freshman in 1999. He was a senior.

She tried to sit in the back of the bus, but that was reserved for upperclassmen. Some of them chided her, but Michael said, “You can sit with me,” Steward recalled.

Later, Michael would occasionally “have car trouble” so he could ride the bus with Steward.

“He always had a rose in his hand for me,” she recalled.

On Nov. 29, 2002, Michael proposed outside a palace in Germany, Steward recalled.

But, once he was in Iraq, such visits were impossible.

“At that point, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done — there was no way to be with the one I loved,” Steward said. “That was the hardest thing, until this.”

Michael had recently re-enlisted and was due a 30-day leave in January. Woodliff was notified he would be heading stateside within 10 days. But, the leave got postponed to stop the decline in U.S. forces.

“The only thing I think he was truly disappointed about was that he was on that 10-day countdown — and it got canceled,” said Janine Woodliff.

During his high school years, Michael earned the nickname “Roof Boy,” recalled his mother.

The name came after Michael apparently got out of his car without turning off the engine. He jumped on the roof, and, laying on his stomach, steered by reaching through the window.

A sheriff's deputy issued him two tickets, one for improper use of a vehicle and the other for failing to use a seat belt, recalled his mother with a laugh.

Michael cared about others, his friends said. He regularly brought doughnuts to homeless people, said a brother.

“It's an outstanding family, very close knit,” said Harvey Elliott, a former business colleague of Michael's parents at A.G. Edwards.

Elliott recalled racing his sailboat with Lee and Michael in the late 1990s.

“He was just a fun-loving kid,” Elliott said.

“It's a tragedy,” added Walter Vasquez, another former colleague of the Woodliff parents. “Mike's a hero.

“He served our nation, and whether people support the war or not, he was there; he was doing his job and he was killed in action.”

Woodliff will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but the military will hold a local viewing, said Larry Taylor, director of Taylor Funeral Home. The family is formulating plans for both a public and private service.

Janine said she now understands the importance of community support.

“They're your neighbors, your friends, your long lost friends,” she said. “I mean, after losing Mike, you don't take anything for granted. You tell them, ‘I miss you, I love you, I'm glad you're in the world!'”

5 March 2004
Community talking of final salute
Vets, teachers, friends want to honor Woodliff

While a Punta Gorda family grieves for the loss of their son killed Tuesday in action in Iraq, members of the community are hoping to find ways to show countywide support.

One friend of the family asked the Charlotte County Commission to declare a day of mourning.

A coach wants to name a wrestling award after the young man.

And one American Legion post commander offered to make his unit's honor guard and rifle squad available upon request.

Ray Kish, commander of both the American Legion Post 103 on Taylor Road in Punta Gorda and the Charlotte County Marine Corps League, said the moment he set foot onto the post Wednesday morning, members began calling him.

“Are we going to do something for this young man?” they asked.

“Absolutely, I want to do something with this man,” Kish replied.

The call of support is mounting for Michael Woodliff, 22, who graduated from Charlotte High School in 2000.

Woodliff, a U.S. Army Specialist 4 who had just re-enlisted after a four-year stint, was killed in Baghdad when his Humvee was hit by a bomb.

Woodliff leaves behind his parents, Lee and Janine Woodliff, three brothers, Steven, Andrew and Matthew, and fiancée Crystal Steward.

Woodliff's family is steeped in military heritage. Lee retired in the mid-1990s as an Army major, and Steven is currently serving aboard a nuclear submarine in the Pacific. A grandfather and a great-grandfather also served.

The only reservation on making plans for a community memorial service is out of respect for the Woodliff family, Kish said.

The post musters honor guards for funerals some 80 times per year. But the post's protocol is to not intrude on a family unless requested. So the post has yet to contact Woodliff's family, Kish said.

Meanwhile, the family is working with the casualty office of the Department of Defense to arrange for Woodliff's body to be flown to Punta Gorda for a viewing before it is escorted to its final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery.

The schedule for services has yet to be established.

“We're certainly wanting to do whatever we can with both (a color guard and rifle squad) for them,” Kish said.

He also suggested the post could hold a communitywide service.

“I would love to have a ceremony at the flagpole,” Kish added. “We could have a very nice service.”

Donna Elliott, a friend and former co-worker of Woodliff's parents, said she called County Commission Chairman Matt DeBoer to ask if the county could post flags along streets or fly a flag at half-staff.

“This young man died for his country — and he grew up here, spent his high school years here,” said Elliott.

DeBoer said Thursday the county was considering several ways of showing support. First, county officials checked the schedule for the Charlotte County Memorial Auditorium in case it is needed for a service.

It would be available March 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., DeBoer said.

Also, DeBoer said he would write up a draft proclamation to honor Woodliff.

Finally, the county will consider flying flags on country roads the day his body returns to Punta Gorda. But the logistics remain to be determined.

“I'm not sure I can get that together that quick,” DeBoer said. “We don't know when the body is going to be here.

“This is one of those things you don't expect,” he added. “But we have to think about what's important. He died for his country. We have to rally around his family.

“If we can do anything, we will.”

Brandi Jolin, who dated Woodliff while both were schoolmates at Charlotte High School, said Woodliff always tried to cheer people up when they felt down.

Sometimes, that meant clowning around to get schoolmates to laugh, she said. Woodliff would hang from the rafters of the roof over the school's walkways and act like an ape, or throw wadded-up paper in class, she said.

“He wouldn't want them to cry,” she said. “He never wanted anyone to cry. He would just want them to be proud of what he did.”

A community show of support would be a great way to honor him, she added.

“I think he would be very, very proud that someone actually realized who he was,” Jolin said. “I think he would be excited about that.”

Bill Hoke, wrestling coach at Charlotte High, said the wrestling program is renaming its coach's award the Mike Woodliff Coach's Award.

“The coach's award is given to the kid who displays great leadership and work ethic — and that speaks of him,” Hoke said. “Mike had great work ethic.”

The school has already honored Marine Lance Corporal Brian Rory Buesing, a CHS wrestler, by naming the wrestling team's most outstanding wrestler of the year after him. Buesing, who attended CHS in 1996-97, was killed March 23, 2003, in an Iraqi firefight.

Now, the school is currently ordering two plaques to honor both Woodliff and Buesing. The plaques will be placed in a case along with military photos of the two former students.

The case, which is housed in the gym, will also contain 40 nameplates for the annual winners of the outstanding wrestler of the year.

“We don't want these two boys to be forgotten,” Hoke said.

A scholarship in Woodliff's name should also be established and a tree should be planted in a Punta Gorda park to honor his service to his country, said veteran activist Clyde Prier. He said he plans to propose the measures at the next meetings of the American Legion Post 103, VFW Post 5690 and AMVETS.

Prier, a former school teacher, said he came up with the ideas after talking about Woodliff with his wife, Judy, also a former educator.

“Since he was a son of Charlotte County, we want to memorialize him,” said Judy Prier. “In that respect, his sacrifice will not be forgotten. And it goes toward something we value, which is education.”

Friday, March 12, 2004
Memorial service for Punta Gorda soldier killed in Iraq
Courtesy of the Associated Press

PUNTA GORDA, Florida – A 22-year-old soldier who was killed in Iraq was remembered at a funeral Friday in southwest Florida.

Michael Woodliff, a mortar specialist with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, was killed March 2, 2004, when a makeshift roadside bomb was set off by guerillas, tearing through the Humvee he was driving.

Woodliff, the winner of both the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, was honored Friday at a memorial service. He will be buried later at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Woodliff enlisted in the Army on a delayed entry program the summer after his junior year in high school by tricking his parents into signing a waiver, his mother said. Woodliff reported for duty in May 2000, after his senior year at Charlotte High School.

His brother, Steven Woodliff, 24, is also in the military, serving on a nuclear submarine for the past five years. He was allowed to return home to Punta Gorda for the funeral.

“Mike and I were always roommates growing up,” Steven Woodliff told the Charlotte Sun-Herald. “There was a lot of bickering and fighting, but there were good times, too.”

“I wasn't gung-ho about the military as a kid,” he added. “I just ended up joining. But Mike – he was gung-ho.”

Michael Woodliff had reported back to his family that he had narrowly avoided death several times in Iraq. In one instance a suicide bomber's detonator had malfunctioned as he ran toward the soldier.

“I couldn't believe his bravery,” Steven Woodliff said. “He was a class act, many times over.”

13 March 2004
Community sends off fallen soldier
Some 450 attend funeral for CHS grad

U.S. Army Sergeant Michael Woodliff's family, friends and community members bid a somber goodbye to a fallen hero at his funeral Friday.

“Yes, we're going to weep, we're going to grieve, this is only natural,” said the Rev. Dennis Postell of the Abundant Life Assembly of God Church in Punta Gorda, Florida,where the funeral was held. “But, we must remember, he gave his life for a great purpose and a great cause.”

Woodliff, a 22-year-old who graduated from Charlotte High School in 2000, was killed March 2, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. His Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device when his convoy was attacked, according to the Department of Defense.

There have been 598 U.S. deaths since the war began a year ago.

“It still seems distant until one of your own pays the price,” he said.

About 450 people attended the service, including Punta Gorda Mayor Steve Fabian, City Councilman John Murphy and CHS Principal Barney Duffy.

Outside the church, small American flags were stuck in the ground around the church and several people waved flags and placed their hands over their hearts as a long, white limousine bearing Woodliff's family pulled in.

The family included his father, retired U.S. Army Maj. Lee Woodliff and mother, Janine Woodliff. It also included Michael's three brothers, U.S. Navy submariner Steven, 23; Matthew 20 and Andrew 19.

Michael's fiancee, Crystal Steward, accepted the flag that was draped over his casket, after it was folded into a triangle by the honor guard.

Honor guards of uniformed officers from the Marine Corps League, the Retired Officers Association and the American Legion Post 103 took turns standing by the casket until the service began.

Ushers helped mourners to their pews while an honor guard from the Punta Gorda Police Department stood in the wings.

Those filing into the church included about a dozen junior recruitment trainees. At least a dozen other Charlotte High students also attended.

As people filed in to fill the sanctuary nearly to capacity, photographs of Michael were projected onto a screen.

There was a photo of Michael as an infant wearing a red Santa suit, a photo of him in an elementary school soccer uniform, and in a CHS wrestler's uniform.

Other photos were of him with his brothers, all grinning; Michael and his friends flexing their muscles or showing off a tattoo; and photos of him with his arm around his girl.

There were also photos of him in his fatigues and combat helmet, a serious look on his face.

“It was a pleasure to watch this little boy grow up to become the man he became,” said Jim Laycock, a family friend who said he was particularly close to Woodliff.

“I asked him, ‘What are the most important things in life?'” Laycock said. “He replied: ‘Mr. Jim … faith, family and friends.' …

“I think his loyalty to faith, friends and family were his best attributes,” Laycock added.

Fred Weiss Jr., an uncle of Woodliff, halted his eulogy for a moment to check his emotions. Fred worked with his nephew in a concrete business one summer, family members have said.

“We had so much in common, we were so much alike,” Weiss said. “He's made such an impact — on all our lives — we'll never be the same.”

One photo showed Woodliff playfully carrying one of his best friends, Quinton Williams, in his arms.

“Mike was more than my friend,” said Williams. “He's my brother.

“He gave his life for people whether they cared about him or not,” Williams added.

Williams, a classmate who joined the army with Woodliff two days after they graduated from high school, said he had led Woodliff to be baptized at the First Macedonia Church.

In recent e-mails from Iraq, Woodliff questioned his faith, Williams said.

“He told me he wasn't sure about his faith and whether it was OK with God, what he was doing,” Williams said.

But, a few weeks ago, the soldier wrote he'd made peace with God over his participation in the war, Williams said.

“He was a brave young man,” added Rev. Carl Brooks of the Macedonia church. “He loved his country.

“He answered the call of government. He answered the call for the greatest sacrifice you can give, and he paid it.”

CHS wrestling Coach Bill Hoke described Woodliff, a state championship runnerup on the team, as “very special.”

“He always fought to the end, even when he knew he wasn't going to win,” Hoke said.

Hoke, who is a parent, paid tribute to Woodliff's parents.

“He was loved,” Hoke told the parents. “It was evident because of his self confidence and his ability to laugh at his own mistakes.

“Mike was a hero,” Hoke added. “He was a person of great courage who sacrificed his life for me, and all of you — and I promise you, I will always cherish every moment I spend with my children, and I will always remember Mike.”

“It's a terrible tragedy whenever a family loses one of its own,” said retired U.S. Army Gen. Rufus Lazzell, a former Punta Gorda mayor, in comments after the funeral. “But, I can't help but feel proud of him.

“He followed the duty of a soldier; when your country calls you, you've got to go to the sound of the guns, and that's exactly what he did.”

After a 21-gun military salute, Woodliff's body will be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery Monday.

13 March 2004:

PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA — With tears slipping down his face, Sergeant Cullen Huntley slowly bent down and handed Crystal Steward the folded American flag that covered her fallen soldier’s casket.

Words were not spoken, nor were any needed.


Lee Woodliff, sitting next to his wife, Janine, top, comforts his son’s fiancee, Crystal Steward, front left, on Friday during the funeral of his son Sgt. Michael Woodliff in Punta Gorda.

 Huntley served in the U.S. Army with Sergeant Michael Woodliff in Iraq, where Woodliff died March 2, 2004, during a military convoy attack in Baghdad. Steward, 19, of Fort Myers, was Woodliff’s fiancee.

Family, friends and military personnel packed the Abundant Life Assembly of God in Punta Gorda to remember Woodliff’s life Friday afternoon. American flags lined the sidewalks of the church as ROTC students held the doors for mourners.

A large portrait of Woodliff stood next to his flag-draped casket, which was surrounded by plants and flowers.

“I look to you and can say, you are my hero,” said Woodliff’s cousin, Fred Weiss Jr. of New York. “With this loss, my life will never be the same.”

Woodliff, 22, a 2000 Charlotte High graduate, will be laid to rest at 10 a.m. Monday in a private burial service at Arlington National Cemetery, family members said.

Across the street from the service, Barbara Cestaro, 46, and Patty Ciborowski, 44, took turns waving an American flag for passers-by. Even though they did not know Woodliff, they thought it was the least they could do for his sacrifice.

“We just wanted to show we support not just him, but all Americans over there,” Cestaro said. “They need to come home.”

Inside the church, Woodliff’s father, retired Major Lee Woodliff, consoled his wife Janine and Steward often during the hourlong service, gently placing his hands on their backs.

Also attending were Woodliff’s three brothers, including Steven Woodliff, who serves in the U.S. Navy.

Quinton Williams, 21, a youth minister at First Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Punta Gorda, broke down while sharing stories about his friend’s faith. The former soldier then saluted the casket before stepping away from the podium.

“He gave his life for people that didn’t even care if he served,” Williams said. “His whole life was to help others.”

Michael Woodliff, a third-generation soldier and member of the 1st Armored Division, was assigned to a mortar company. A former member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Woodliff had been in Iraq since April. He was killed after insurgents threw an explosive device into the Humvee he was riding in as it traveled under an overpass in Baghdad.


Ivar Svenson , a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, stands next to the casket of Sgt. Michael Woodliff on Friday at the Abundant Life Assembly of God church in Punta Gorda.

“Mike is my hero because he was willing to risk and ultimately sacrifice his life for me and my family,” said Charlotte High wrestling coach Bill Hoke, who coached Woodliff his senior year.

American Legion Post 103 in Punta Gorda will plant an oak tree and erect a plaque in Woodliff’s honor later this month.

“Our youth are unbelievable,” Post 103 commander Raymond Kish said. “They volunteer their services and give their life. We’re fortunate enough to be able to say goodbye to them.”

Woodliff, who earned the bronze star and Purple Heart, was promoted from specialist to sergeant by the Army after his death.

His friend, Robert Kecken, 21, a seaman in the Coast Guard stationed in Portsmouth, Va., attended the service of his former Charlotte High band percussion mate.

“We used to joke around like crazy,” Kecken said. “In the time I knew him, he influenced me.”


  • IRAQ
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 08/20/1981
  • DATE OF DEATH: 03/02/2004

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