Ken Whitmire taught Ray Werner how to bugle for elk and fly fish. Now Whitmire says 21-year-old Werner has taught him the importance of family and faith.
"With his death, Raymond has become my teacher," Whitmire said, noting that Werner's sudden death in Iraq was a wake-up call to stay close to family and embrace his faith, as Werner had.
Whitmire was one of hundreds of mourners who packed the seats at Cloverdale Church of God in Boise Friday to remember Pfc. Raymond M. Werner, one of three Idaho Army reservists killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 8 in Iraq's al-Anbar province.
Family and friends remembered Werner as a loving husband, a Christian and a prankster.
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His widow, Lacey Werner, said Ray got down on one knee in a Missouri Wal-Mart parking lot after basic training and proposed to her — before they had even started seriously dating. She suggested they wait. They got married last June.
After deploying to Iraq with the 321st Engineer Battalion in September, Ray Werner called his wife nearly every day, she said. If she was at work and her phone buzzed, she would dash outside to talk to him, always returning in a better mood.
The couple, who met while working at the Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon in Boise, talked about the future, how many kids they wanted to have and what to name them, Lacy said.
"He would have been the best father," she said, choking back tears.
Werner, Sgt. Ross A. Clevenger, 21, and Sgt. James Holtom, 22, were hunting for roadside bombs Feb. 8 when a bomb exploded near their South African-made RG31 armored anti-mine truck. All three were killed, and Staff Sgt. George G. Nickel, 37, of Boise, suffered a broken leg and shrapnel in his face in the attack. Another 321st soldier, Staff Sgt. John J. Green, 45, of Boise, was slightly injured in a separate incident that day. It was the deadliest day for Idaho soldiers since October 2001.
Clevenger was honored in a funeral last Saturday, and Holtom's funeral was Tuesday.
Gov. Butch Otter and high-ranking military officials spoke at a brief burial service for Werner Friday at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. The Army posthumously gave Werner several awards, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.
Werner loved to hunt, fish and camp, family and friends said. He attended BSU for a year before leaving for Iraq and was thinking of becoming a youth pastor when he finished his Army service, his mother, Kathy Elledge said.
Werner's younger brother, Roger Spencer, said Werner gave him stability and a father figure.
"We never had a real dad around, and he was always my role model," said Spencer, 17.
Youth pastor Chris Standridge said Werner was looking for direction at age 14 and found it when he started regularly attending church.
Standridge said the atmosphere in his Sunday school class would immediately lighten when Werner walked in.
"I just remember thinking, ‘Ray's here, let's get this party started,' " he said.
Less than three years ago, Werner was singing tenor in the Cole Valley Christian High School choir. He was a handful, making up his own lyrics and sometimes making "percussive" noises during practice, choir director Claudia Sutherland said. On Friday afternoon, the choir sang at a celebration of Werner's life held at Cole Valley Christian, where the flags stood at half-staff.
"There were times my stomach would ache because he was so funny," Sutherland said.
Elledge said her son learned discipline and maturity in the Army, but never lost his sense of humor. He was always talking in accents and doing impressions, she said. As a toddler, he would sing his ABCs operatically.
Ray was outgoing and friendly from the beginning, she said.
"He never met a stranger since he was a toddler," Elledge said.
Lacey Werner fought back tears throughout her speech at her husband's funeral but said her faith gives her hope.
"Goodnight, my sweetheart, we will be together soon again," she said.
Contact reporter Heath Druzin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 373-6617.