As the somber, lingering notes of a bugle singing taps cut through the afternoon's bright sun and unseasonably warm air, Sgt. Ross Aaron Clevenger was laid to rest Saturday in a Caldwell cemetery surrounded by dozens of family, friends and members of the U.S. armed forces.
The 21-year-old Idaho native was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 8 while serving in al-Anbar province with the Boise-based 321st Engineer Battalion. He was on a mission to clear roadside bombs, military officials said.
Earlier Saturday, hundreds of people crowded into the Marsing High School gymnasium to say goodbye to Clevenger.
Family members and friends painted a picture of an easygoing guy whose disarming, goofy grin and eagerness to make those around him happy earned Clevenger their love and respect.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
"Rocco," as Clevenger was known, was always game for an impromptu fishing expedition or 4-wheel-drive outing. A photo slide show gave glimpses of the life of a lanky boy with white-blond hair who played football, rode a miniature motorcycle and posed for a picture in Santa's lap.
"I look forward to the day we can see each other again," said Clevenger's sister, Julie Morgan, reading from a letter she wrote to him.
As a child he never tired of the animated movie "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" or the book "Where the Wild Things Are." Morgan said the family read that classic children's story to her brother one last time before tucking it into his casket.
Clevenger was home on leave just weeks ago, when he spent time skiing with family at Tamarack in January.
"He was taken way too soon," said a tearful Ashley Elumbaugh, a friend of Clevenger's since preschool. "That's all I have to say — taken way too soon."
Elumbaugh and friend Ashlee Nielsen, who also grew up in Marsing with Clevenger, wore T-shirts Saturday printed with his photograph.
"He's one of those people you never forget," Nielsen said.
Memorial services for two other Idaho soldiers killed with Clevenger — Sgt. James J. Holtom, 22, and Pfc. Raymond M. Werner, 22 — are planned for this week.
Military personnel and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter praised Clevenger's patriotism and dedication to his country.
"He, like Sgt. Holtom and Pfc. Werner, did what they said they would do," said Maj. Gen. Lawrence Johnson, commander of the 70th Regional Readiness Command.
At the graveside service Clevenger's parents, Abby Bradshaw and Loren Clevenger, were given the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Award he had been awarded.
Clevenger leaves behind his fiancee, Staff Sgt. Brandie Brown, who is currently serving in Iraq.
Brown wrote a letter to be read at Clevenger's memorial in which she called him the "most amazing and kind-hearted man I've ever met."
Clevenger grew up in Washington state and Idaho, graduating from Marsing High School in 2003. He joined the Army Reserves while still in high school.
He was deployed to Iraq in September.
Contact reporter Hilary Costaat 672-6730 or firstname.lastname@example.org.