Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ross Clevenger laid to rest

MARSING — On a crisp, clear Saturday afternoon, an Idaho serviceman received a community’s final farewell in services befitting an American hero.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Ross Aaron Clevenger, 21, was remembered at a memorial service as “a tough guy, good-spirited person” who loved his family, friends and military girlfriend and who died doing his duty as a volunteer soldier.

Close to 400 people attended the touching and emotional service at the Marsing High School gymnasium, where they watched a video tribute of his life, and listened to personal accounts, letters and music in his honor. His flag-draped casket was carried into the hushed room by military pallbearers.

Clevenger died along with two other Idaho soldiers Feb. 8 when a roadside bomb heavily damaged their armored vehicle in Iraq. They were all part of the Boise-based 321st Engineer Battalion, Company A, and were on active duty at the time of the blast.

The 2003 Marsing High School graduate was portrayed by his sister Julie Morgan as her “personal hero,” who loved ice fishing, four-wheel driving, jumping on the trampoline and the book “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak. The book was read to him one final time and then placed in the casket with him.

Sister: ‘He never complained’

In a letter addressed to “Dear Rocco,” Morgan recounted one ice-fishing trip when her brother’s four-wheeler got stuck in the snow — and he was wearing tennis shoes.
“His feet were so cold, I remember thinking, ‘Let me warm up your feet,’ but he never, ever complained. He never complained. He was a tough guy all around. He was a good-spirited, positive person,” she said, adding that she enjoyed spending time with him in any activity and was elated to watch him graduate from boot camp.

Her husband, Tim, recalled junior high school antics and the last time he saw Clevenger about a month ago when he was home on leave. He said his “brother” talked about his mission in Iraq “but didn’t tell all the dangers of his job.”

Watching Clevenger graduate from boot camp in Arkansas and grow from a young man who didn’t know what he wanted to a gentleman serving his country was an inspiration, Tim Morgan said.

Friends overcome by loss

Friend and pallbearer Dax Olvera choked up several times while reading his letter, in which he told of Clevenger’s habit of surreptitiously borrowing things, then innocently returning them later. He remembered his fallen friend’s fondness for butterscotch rolls, his ability to serve as a role model and a good uncle to his nieces and nephews, and the good time they had together before his pal left for Iraq.

“Ross, you will always be my brother; I’ll never forget the relationship we had,” Olvera said in his letter.
Clevenger’s uncle, Russell Clevenger, talked about his nephew as a child and as a man, saying that when Ross walked into a room, “things just happened.”

“He was unforgettable then, he is unforgettable today and forever in our hearts,” he said.

In their own letters, his father Loren Clevenger and brothers Brandon Clevenger and Matt McDowell all said their son and brother had enriched their lives, would be remembered as their hero, and would remain in their hearts forever.

Girlfriend cherishes memory

In her letter from Iraq, Clevenger’s girlfriend, Staff Sgt. Brandie Brown, recalled how they met, got to know each other and fell in love. She called the Idaho soldier “the most amazing and kind-hearted man I’ve ever known.”

“Ross swept me off my feet and I fell head over heels in love with him,” she wrote, adding, “He made you feel good when he was around.”
Maj. Gen. Lawrence Johnson, commanding general of the U.S. Army 70th Regional Readiness Command Center, paid the military’s respects to Clevenger, Pfc. Raymond M. Werner of Boise, and Sgt. Jim Holtom, whose family lives in Rexburg and fiancee in Nampa.

“Sgt. Clevenger deserves to remain in the memory not only of his family, but all who have gathered here, all who know about him and every single soldier for one central, extraordinary fact: He, like Pfc. Werner and Sgt. Holtom, did what they said they would do,” Johnson said, adding that Clevenger answered the call to serve voluntarily.

On the day he died, Clevenger had been on a previous mission and “probably didn’t need to go on that patrol on that fateful mission,” Johnson said. “He was the model of what it means to be a man, a citizen and a soldier.”
Gov. Butch Otter paid homage to the soldier on behalf of the citizens of Idaho, calling him a patriot and a member of Idaho’s family. He said of all his duties as governor, giving his respects to one of the state’s servicemen was “the highest honor.”

During the service, Clevenger’s sister, Charli Bradshaw, sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” his friend KJ Zimmerman played “Midnight Waltz” on the violin and another friend, Nancy Goebel, sang “Fly Free.”

From the Press Tribune

Related Link:
Ross A. Clevenger dies of injuries from I.E.D.