Marine Pvt. Heath D. Warner, 19, of Canton, Ohio
Pvt. Warner was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died Nov. 22 while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.
Military service a longtime dream
Canton McKinley graduate, in Marines for a year, was proud to be `defending freedom'
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
CANTON - When Heath Warner was 12, he visited Arlington National Cemetery with his family.
Standing at attention, Heath saluted a member of the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The guard gave the boy a subtle hint, a slight wink, letting Heath know that he understood what the boy was feeling at the historic site.
Soon, Marine Pvt. Heath D. Warner, 19, will return to Arlington National Cemetery, this time to be buried in the rolling landscape that meant so much to him.
He was among three Marines killed Nov. 22 in a roadside bombing in Iraq.
The young man, who would have turned 20 on Jan. 2, dreamed of going into the military from the time he was 5.
While at Canton McKinley High School, he decided to join the Marines, enlisted in his senior year and by August 2005 -- several weeks after graduation -- was on his way to boot camp.
Inside their home this week, his parents, Scott and Melissa Warner, grabbed a pile of snapshots and pulled out one after another showing Heath as he grew up, determined to serve his country.
There was a picture of him wearing the Army uniform of his grandfather, Randy Metzger, of Bolivar.
Another showed Heath standing at attention and saluting at an Army fort in Virginia.
And one was from seven years ago as he stood at attention and saluted in the cemetery in Arlington, Va.
On graduation day at McKinley, he walked straight as an arrow, like a Marine, as he picked up his diploma.
``This is what he's always wanted to do,'' said his mother, Melissa Warner, 39, a cashier trainer for Sears.
``It was his calling in life,'' she said.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America played a part in Heath's desire to serve his country.
``I remember him over and over saying, `I'm gonna go fight for my country,' '' his mother said.
In the week since his parents learned of his death, they have been comforted by friends and family and even strangers who have stopped by their Canton home to visit or to drop off food, flowers and cards.
Heath was a gunner on a Humvee when he and Lance Cpl. James Davenport, 20, of Danville, Ind., and Lance Cpl. Joshua Alonzo, 21, of Dumas, Texas, were killed while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
The three were part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and were based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
As a gunner, he stood on the Humvee.
On his Web site at www.myspace.com/tmarui, he wrote, ``if you are gonna die, die standing up.''
On that Web site, he listed his major as ``Defending Freedom.''
While in Hawaii, he spoke with his family by cell phone, sometimes several times a day.
But after he left for Iraq in early September, the family received only one letter and no phone calls.
The letter was dated Oct. 2 and arrived in Canton on Oct. 28.
Heath wrote that he was studying the Bible and reading The Purpose Driven Life, a religious best-seller by Rick Warren.
``I don't want to talk about it much,'' he said in the letter. ``I get homesick. And you worry.''
In that letter, he told his family he had survived an IED -- an improvised explosive device.
``I know God is watching,'' he wrote.
Father Scott Warner, 43, a financial analyst for the Westfield Group in Medina County, said he and his wife believe Heath was trying to protect his family by not telling them much about what was going on in Iraq.
``Heath was a selfless young man,'' his father said.
The young Marine loved to break dance, was intrigued with martial arts, was teaching himself to speak Japanese and had taken Arabic lessons in the Marines.
A brother, Chandler, 14, described Heath as his best friend.
Losing him, Chandler said, is hard.
``My nerves are shot,'' he said.
His brother's sacrifice, Chandler said, will ``motivate me to do something good with my life.''
Heath has another brother, 7-year-old Ashton.
Father Scott Warner recalled a Memorial Day ceremony at McKinley Monument this year, attended by family of service members who had died in Iraq.
He said he told his wife during the ceremony: ``I pray to God we aren't up there next year.''
Heath didn't like to say goodbye when on the phone with his parents. Instead, he would say, ``talk to you soon'' or something like that, his parents said.
In the last letter to his family were these words in English: ``I love you all,'' followed by this word in Arabic, ``Goodbye.''
For some reason, his mother said, God wanted her son.
``He entrusted him to me,'' Melissa Warner said. ``Our children are definitely a true gift from God.... God needed him and I had to give him back.''
Marine Pvt. Heath D. Warner was killed in action on 11/22/06.
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