Heath Warner

CANTON - The Warner family tried to have as normal a Thanksgiving Day as possible Thursday.

The sun shone brilliantly on the American flag and the U.S. Marine Corps flag that were proudly flown side by side on the porch of Scott and Melissa Warner's home on the city's northwest side.

This, they knew, would be a holiday like no previous one the family had observed.

The Warners learned Wednesday that their son, Marine Pfc. Heath Warner, had been killed in Iraq.

Warner, 19, reportedly was riding in a jeep on the west side of Baghdad at about 10 a.m. Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded and killed him and two other Marines.

Warner was the 19th local soldier -- and the eighth with ties to Stark County -- to die in Iraq.

``We're just trying to bring some normalcy to a holiday,'' said an aunt, who answered the door at the family's home and said she was serving as a spokeswoman. ``The family need this day to be together and they will talk later.''

The grieving family had bunkered themselves inside the neatly kept, brick, two-story house.

There, they shared memories of Warner, who graduated 18 months ago from McKinley Senior High School.

``Heath was a good student in school and great kid,'' said Tony Tenaglia of North Canton, Warner's great-uncle. ``And we didn't have any inclination as he was growing up that he would go into the service.''

Tenaglia called Warner ``a typical kid.''

``We have a large family and we'd always see him at Christmastime when we rented a hall and 80 or so of us would get together,'' Tenaglia said. ``He was great to talk to and to be around. Everybody really liked Heath.'' The tumultuous events of Sept. 11 had a big impact on Warner, his great-uncle said.

``When 9/11 hit in 2001, he got it into his head that he had to go into the service,'' Tenaglia said. ``Everybody -- immediate family, relatives and friends -- tried to talk him out of it. But he was determined to serve his country and he went against the objections of everybody.''

Tenaglia said Warner focused on preparing for military service before he graduated from McKinley.

``After 9/11, Heath thought going into the service was the right thing to do and it kind of overtook his mind,'' Tenaglia said.

He said Warner's personality changed with his training.

``He had been very outward and very intelligent before he got into the service,'' Tenaglia said. ``Once he got into training, he was very withdrawn. Heath still was a great guy, but he just wasn't as personable as before. I guess the training in the service makes you that way.''

The Department of Defense declined comment Thursday.

A spokesman said the agency cannot release any information until 24 hours after the next of kin has been notified.

Published in Akron Beacon Journal on Nov. 24, 2006