Thursday, November 16, 2006

Harry A. Winkler killed by I.E.D.

The first baby born at Jacksonville General Hospital grew up to be a respected soldier. Army Spc. Harry "Buck" Winkler was so knowledgeable that officers in Iraq used to fight over who would get him as their gunner. He was that dependable.

When Winkler returned from patrol, his focus was on pictures of his family and 10-month-old son, Owen. He planned to come back in December for the boy's first birthday. Instead, he will come back to be laid to rest.

Winkler, 32, was killed by a car bomb Sunday near Samarra. He was on patrol with Lt. Michael A. Cerrone, 24, of Clarksville, Tenn., soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Both died after their vehicle was struck, according to the division.

Winkler's family said he loved being a soldier.

"Serving his country was an honor," said his wife, Charity Winkler. "It was something he said had changed his life for the better."

Winkler was supposed to return to North Carolina in December to see his wife and 12-year-old stepson and Owen. But their plans have fallen apart. Now the family expects to bury him on Monday at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery, Charity Winkler said.

His mother, Debbi Rivers, said she will always believe God reached his hands down and caught her son.

"He was so proud to be a daddy last year," Rivers said. "This was his little man."

Meeting his wife had been a high point in his life, his mother said.

"She was the love of his life," Rivers said. "She lightened his eyes and brightened his face and gave him the happiest years together."

Winkler still has many relatives in the Jacksonville area, Rivers said. But she and he moved away soon after he was born in 1974, living in Wisconsin, Missouri and Deltona before settling in Hampton, S.C.

He joined the Army in 2002, shortly after his younger brother joined the Air Force. He wanted to join so badly that he shed 50 pounds to meet the weight requirement, Rivers said.

His fellow soldiers were full of praise for the man they called "Winky." Lt. Col. Viet Luong, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said Winkler was "an inspiration."

"He was bright, mature and optimistic," Luong said. "He also possessed exceptional composure under fire and phenomenal gunner skills. ... His platoon will miss his humor and superb leadership."

Sgt. Ronald Berryhill described Winkler as a great friend and a devoted father. He spent countless hours talking about his family, Berryhill said. He lifted other soldiers' spirits.

"He was my best soldier, the go-to guy to get things done," Berryhill said. "He loved being a soldier and was more knowledgeable than anyone in the platoon."

From the Florida Times Union