Olivia mourns death of Guard member James Wertish
Family members and friends are mourning the death of Spc. James Wertish, 20, of rural Olivia, who was one of three Minnesota National Guard soldiers killed Thursday evening at a military base near Basra in southern Iraq.
The soldiers from the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were killed during a missile attack on the base around 9:15 p.m. Thursday.
Wertish's death was confirmed Friday evening by The Rev. George Schmit, pastor of St. Mary's Church of Bird Island where Wertish attended with his parents, David and Kim of rural Olivia, and two sisters and one brother.
James Wertish attended St. Mary's School through seventh grade. He joined the Minnesota National Guard in the summer of 2006 and graduated from BOLD High School in 2007. Schmit said Wertish was a friendly young man who helped on the family farm and enjoyed snowmobiling and riding all-terrain vehicles.
Schmit said he did not know when the funeral would be held.
The family asked that Schmit be the liaison between the family and the news media. In a statement released by the family and read by Schmit, the family asked that their wishes be granted for private mourning with family and friends.
"We would like to express our gratitude for the sympathy and prayers for James and our family and friends,'' the statement said. "We are very proud of his service and dedication to our country. Please keep James and every fallen and injured solider and their family members in your prayers.
"These men and women are giving their lives for our freedom and deserve the highly respect for service they give to our country. We especially would like to thank our family and friends for being here for us and support we have received from the community and the Minnesota National Guard.
"We have lost one son and a brother. There are still two other families who have lost a loved one. There are service members right now serving our country in harm's way and we ask that you continue to support them. We ask that everyone keep our deployed service men and women in their thoughts and prayers.''
Besides his parents, James Wertish is survived by his sisters: Amber (and Josh) Weber and Carolyn Wertish; and one brother: Anthony.
The other two slain Minnesota National Guard soldiers identified by loved ones were 27-year-old Carlos Wilcox of Cottage Grove and 22-year-old Daniel Drevnick of Woodbury.
Charlene Wilcox says her son was proud to serve his country and hoped to become an Army doctor. She says he loved to travel and had studied in Spain while in college.
Ken Drevnick says his son was a hard worker who planned to become a state trooper. Drevnick says his family hadn't heard from Dan since he went back to Iraq earlier this month after a brief trip home.
Seven other service members from west central Minnesota have also died while serving in Iraq since 2005.
The Associate Press contributed to this story.