Two Hometown Heroes, One Gave His Life

Name of Hero: Craig Birkholz

Hero City: Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Submitted by: Rick Poggenburg

Hundreds pay respects to fallen Wis. officer
Posted 3/26/2011 11:10 PM ET

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — With many saluting in silence, hundreds of mourners watched Saturday as the casket of a Wisconsin police officer was carried into a church and remembered the war veteran as a hero who always put others first.
Fond du Lac Police Officer Craig Birkholz was killed in a shootout March 20 with a suspect who eventually committed suicide. His partner, Officer Ryan Williams, was shot twice in the chest but survived.

Birkholz’s death devastated his hometown of Kenosha, where residents said he was a quiet person who led by example.

“I’m here for what he did for all of us,” Nate Lawler, who was the high school wrestling team with Birkholz, said while braving a bitterly cold wind to pay his final respects as a funeral procession crept by. “He put his life on the line to keep us safe. He’s a hero.”

“There was no greater man than him,” added Randy Webb, who had known Birkholz since he was 5 years old. “He was always the one who put everyone else in front of his own needs. He was a protector.”

Hundreds lined the funeral route as a procession of emergency vehicles slowly drove by with their lights flashing. Pallbearers withdrew the casket from the hearse and carried it into a church as mourners, standing 20 rows deep on each side, saluted.

The family requested that media not attend the funeral.

Birkholz, 28, had served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq after joining the military following his graduation from Tremper High School in 2000. When later earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

He was using his position as a police officer as a springboard to a higher-profile job such as a U.S. Marshal or an FBI agent.

“I think he had a lot of what he wanted to do figured out at 17,” family friend Jim Katich recalled. “He always knew what he wanted to do.”

Authorities said Birkholz died after being shot in the upper chest by 30-year-old James Cruckson. Williams, the officer who was wounded, was released from the hospital Friday, and doctors said the 33-year-old made a “phenomenal” recovery. A police dog also was critically injured in the shooting.

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