Screaming Eagles Through Time
Pfc. Branden F. Oberleitner


Worthington, Ohio
Killed June 5, 2003

Pfc. Branden F. Oberleitner

By Jodi Nirode

A Worthington man who was drawn to the military after the United States was attacked by terrorists two years ago was killed this week in Iraq. Pfc. Branden F. Oberleitner, 20, became the second man with ties to Franklin County to be killed in Iraq -- when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at U.S. soldiers at an Army checkpoint early Thursday.

Oberleitner had joined the Army because he felt it was a calling. "He was really passionate about it,'' said Kevin Earhart, who had worked with Oberleitner at a Shell gas station in Worthington before Oberleitner joined the military. "That's all he wanted to do.''

Military officials came on Thursday to the family home on E. Clearview Ave. to say that Oberleitner had been killed. Last night, his mother and stepfather, Iris and Frank Carmack, were in seclusion, saying they were too distraught to talk. Instead, they asked that Keith Luce, a family friend, read a statement.

"It was my honor to have watched him grow into the man he became: a loving brother, and son and proud member of the 101st Airborne Assault,'' Mr. Carmack wrote. "My wife and I have elected to grieve in private.''

Oberleitner, who was based in Fort Campbell, Ky., had survived fighting on the streets of Baghdad and had seen conflict in Mosul only to be ambushed after the major combat was over. He and his unit pulled up in a Humvee at an Army checkpoint in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, about 12:30 a.m. Thursday. They had just completed a morning patrol of area homes to try to stop attacks on U.S. forces in the region when they were fired upon. Oberleitner was killed. Five others -- all from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment -- were injured.

"Our hearts are with the other families of service people around the world following their path and serving their nation,'' Mr. Carmack said in the statement.

Oberleitner was a 2001 graduate of Thomas Worthington High School. Friends say he was kindhearted and always went his own way. During his junior and senior years, he attended vocational school in Delaware, taking classes that would help him become a firefighter. That's where Luce met him. Luce is a teacher at Delaware Joint Vocational School. He became good friends with Oberleitner and his family. "He was mischievous in a boyish way, but not rotten. He had the handsome rugged look of a James Dean,'' said a neighbor of the Oberleitners.

For Oberleitner, a motto often used by firefighters -- "So goes one, so go we all'' -- was his philosophy on life. During high school and after graduation, Oberleitner worked at the Shell station on N. High Street in Worthington. "He said he worked at a gas station because he liked to be close to cars,'' a friend and classmate Tyler Louk recalled. He was always tinkering with cars -- and for years seemed to be working on the same car in his driveway. Louk laughed as she recalled seeing Oberleitner elbow-deep in grease and working on the car the night of their senior prom, when many classmates were wearing gowns and tuxes. "He wasn't into the social scene,'' she said. "He went his own way.'' In high school and after graduation, military service was something that Oberleitner toyed with, friends said.

But then Sept. 11 happened.

After watching terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Oberleitner told his mother he was enlisting. A few months later, he was off to boot camp, Luce said. Oberleitner is the second man with ties to Franklin County to die in Iraq. Army Chief Warrant Officer Brian K. Van Dusen, 39, died May 9 when a U.S. helicopter crashed. Van Dusen, who had lived in Westerville, was traveling in one of two helicopters sent to rescue an Iraqi child wounded in an explosion. The child was loaded into the first helicopter, which took off safely. But as the second helicopter lifted off, it snagged a power line, then flipped into the Tigris River.

Dealing with the news of Oberleitner's death has been "extremely difficult'' for the tight knit Worthington family, friends say. He has an older brother, Anthony Oberleitner, and a younger brother and sister, Andrew and Grace Carmack. His mother, a Worthington librarian, clung to every news report about the war in Iraq and her son stayed in touch through letters and phone calls when he could. "Three weeks ago, he wrote home and said he was kicking butt in Baghdad and was going to Mosul to see if anyone wanted to fight,'' Luce said. "Apparently they did.''

Just last week, his mother got a letter saying the unit could be rotated home in the next 90 days. That would have been too late to celebrate Oberleitner's 21st birthday June 18, but good enough for his mother, Luce said. A military veteran himself, Luce said he understood Oberleitner and has tried to console his mother and remind her that her son died so terrorists would never again strike in America.

"Yesterday he was your son,'' he said he told her. "Today, he's America's son.''

By Spc. Catherine Talento
101st Airborne Division Journalist
Al Fallujah, Iraq, June 9, 2003 - On a sun-drenched riverbank in what some call the most dangerous town in Iraq, soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment paid tribute to one of their fallen soldiers, Spc. Branden Oberleitner, who was killed while on patrol when his Humvee was attacked June 5.
Oberleitner, or Obie, as he was known to those in his unit, was "a shining example of what a soldier should be," said Capt. William Riley, Company B Commander. Riley called Oberleitner "tactically and technically proficient... the kind of soldier ever team leader wanted as their own." All in his chain of command endorsed his application for Officer Candidate School, and Riley said that while no one will know what kind of officer he would have made, everyone would have wanted to be hin his platoon.
Pfc. Jason Resnic, Oberleitner's roommate, offered a few words written by other members of Co. B about his friend. Fighting tears, Resnic read notes urging the other members of the company to live up to Obie's example, to be good soldiers and to look out for one another.
Captain Kenneth Haftorson, 2nd Battalion's chaplain, counseled the soldiers away from acting out in anger at Oberleitner's death.
"Even in death he would not want his name besmirched with acts of hostility towards anyone who was innocent," Haftorson said. "Branden would want everyone to remain professional."
Gunfire shattered the afternoon air and as Taps faded into the wind, the soldiers of Co. B lined up to pay one last tribute to their friend. One by one they approached Oberleitner's rifle, boots and helmet. Many knelt and placed a hand on the helmet, their faces full of emotion as they paused to say a last few words to their friend. After each had said goodbye, a folded American flag was placed at the foot of the memorial, and the soldiers of Co. B once again took up their weapons to continue their job.


A soldier grieves during a memorial service for Pfc. Branden Oberleitner, killed in an ambush last week in Fallujah. Photo:CBS