Craig Birkholz’s promising future in law enforcement ended in a Fond du Lac residential neighborhood, not the warzones he had dutifully served in and returned home from.
Birkholz, 28, died March 20. The U.S. Army veteran and two-year officer with the Fond du Lac Police Department was shot and killed in the line of duty while responding to an incident at a Fond du Lac residence. It is the first police killing in Fond du Lac in a half century. It is a tragic ending for a military veteran who had safely returned from war to earn a bachelor’s degree and pursue a career dream.
In 2009, the UW Oshkosh students who collected the then 26-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran’s and criminal justice graduate’s war story as part of the “War: Through Their Eyes” project never imagined the gravest danger to Birkholz would be a mere 20 miles from his alma mater.
“From Craig’s story, you can tell that in his world, there are good guys and there are bad guys,” said UW Oshkosh adjunct instructor in journalism Grace Lim. “I’m just glad that my journalism students through the (War: Through Their Eyes) podcasts and the book were able preserve the legacy of one of the truly good guy.”
In 2009, led by Lim, the “War: Through Their Eyes” project documented the dangers Birkholz and 15 other soldiers, Marines and military veterans who were students or alumni of UW Oshkosh were preparing to face or had encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several had already made it home from war, each enduring a unique experience.
Birkholz had served in both theaters. He graciously and frankly shared his war experience with student journalists. He lent his voice to a podcast interview, which was reverse published along with other soldiers’ and Marines’ interviews in book format.
“I met him on a Thursday or Friday later, at 4 or 5 at night,” said UW Oshkosh journalism student Alex Mueske, who conducted the project interview with Birkholz. “… I started asking him questions, and it became really apparent very quickly that this was a humble guy who liked to give back to his community. We went in there complete strangers, and I left feeling like, ‘This is a guy I’ve known my whole life.’”
Birkholz’s interview now stands as a kind of document and memorial. The “War: Through Their Eyes” website was updated this week for the first time in about two years. Its home page now pays tribute to one of the project’s most humble voices.
Mueske described Birkholz’s interview as revealing and genuine.
“You could tell when he got to the more emotional parts of his story, that this was really what happened, and this is what he saw,” Mueske said.
“In talking to him, he was really looking forward to graduating and getting a job. Then, he got one and was doing something he always wanted to do.”
Lim’s spring 2009 Writing for the Media class podcasted the audio and video interviews in addition to producing the “War: Through Their Eyes” book. The multimedia elements remain available on UW Oshkosh’s iTunesU site.
“The War: Through Their Eyes project was intended to give a name, a face and a voice to those who have enlisted during a time of war,” Lim said. “The project gave the young men and women a forum to tell the world what they did and what they felt at the front lines. Craig and the other student soldiers and Marines shared stories that they hadn’t shared before.”