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Coos Bay soldier identified as 1 of 2 killed in Iraqi attack.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

COOS BAY - When the Army sergeant came to her front door bearing the bad news, Tammy Widner didn't believe him.

"I thought it was a prank; I knew there was a lot of identity theft going around," she said in a telephone interview Sunday night. "I never thought it would end up this way."

But it did: Her husband, Spc. Vernon R. Widner, was one of two soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division who died from injuries suffered Thursday near Beiji, Iraq.

Pfc. Anthony Gaunky, 19, of Sparta, Wis., also died after the driver of a civilian vehicle rammed a Humvee that the soldiers were riding in, causing it to flip over, according to a report released Sunday.

Vernon Widner, 34, was a well-known face at Don's Diner & Ice Cream Parlor in Reedsport, where he worked as a cook for about four years, his widow said. He joined the Army in April 2003, and Tammy Widner and her two sons moved from Reedsport to Coos Bay, where she is a certified nurse's aide at Bay Area Hospital.

The family moved to the Oregon Coast because she had a brother already living in Reedsport and because "we wanted to get out of California and not raise our children there," Tammy Widner said. They have two sons, Cody, 11, and Dylan, 8.

Vernon Widner is also survived by his parents, Emmanuel and Sandra Widner of Redlands, Calif. Tammy Widner said she and her husband met in Redlands in 1994 - their mothers were best friends, and matchmakers - and were married in 1997.

Tammy Widner, 29, said she believes her husband wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a career Army man. "His dad was in the Army, and it was something he thought he should do," she said. "He always wanted to do stuff like that. I know he liked it and was going to make it a career like his dad."

Widner said her husband had just returned to Iraq on what was at least his second tour of duty there. She last saw her husband, who was based in Fort Campbell, Ky., in late 2003. They kept in regular contact by computer, she said.

Her husband was not worried about being in harm's way, "but I worried about it every day," she said.

When the news of his death sank in, "all I could really think about was how am I going to tell the boys." She said her sons are in shock and may not fully comprehend what's happened until they can attend their father's as-yet-unscheduled funeral.

"I'm going to miss him playing with his boys," she said. "He was a very great dad."

Until now, Widner said she's held no strong opinions about the war in Iraq. "I just think they all need to get out of there before any more of those guys die," she said. "He was only 34. It's young."

The attack that killed Widner and Gaunky closely followed an improvised explosive device detonation on the same route, the military said Sunday. Widner died Thursday and Gaunky died Friday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, said Fort Campbell spokesman John Minton.

Gaunky, 19, joined the Army in September 2004 shortly after graduating from high school, said his father, David Gaunky. The family asked doctors to take any viable organs for transplants, he said.

`So at least that means some part of him lives on and he's still trying to save lives,' David Gaunky said. Widner and Gaunky were combat engineers assigned to A Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Sunday's announcement of their deaths came a day after five soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division were killed and five others were wounded while on patrol near Beiji. They have not been identified.

On Thursday, the military identified four other soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division who were killed near Taji, when an improvised explosive went off near their Humvee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Spc. Vernon Widner with sons Cody Glenn (left) and Dylan. INSIDE Death: A Marine from Tangent died when his unit was attacked in Iraq / B3
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Title Annotation:General News; A Humvee carrying Spc. Vernon Widner was rammed and overturned Thursday
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 21, 2005
Previous Article:Essential or excess?

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