A Fairfax County father of five was killed in Iraq last week when the Humvee he was in crashed, becoming one of the highest-ranking casualties in the war so far, Army officials said yesterday.
Lt. Col. Thomas A. Wren, 44, of Lorton died Saturday in Tallil, southeast of Baghdad, when a civilian vehicle pulled in front of the Humvee, causing it to roll down an embankment. Wren, the recipient of a Bronze Star for service in Bosnia, was one of only 12 lieutenant colonels killed in Iraq.
Wren was the second Virginia soldier reported killed there in two days.
Staff Sgt. Jason A. Fegler, 24, of Virginia Beach died Friday in Baghdad during combat under circumstances that are being investigated as a potential friendly-fire incident. Fegler, a member of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., grew up in Harrisburg, Neb., and was the father of a 2-year-old boy.
Family members said Wren had recently met the love of his life, Holly Wren, whom he married July 4, two months after their son, Tyler, was born.
"Everyone says they just don't remember either of them being so happy," said Holly's mother, Audrey Thomasson of White Stone, Va. "She keeps saying he had such a wonderful, big heart."
"They never even lived together," Thomasson said, adding that her daughter was asleep in the next room with one of her husband's shirts. "She has not spent one married day with him."
Wren also had four children from a previous marriage.
A longtime reservist who had also seen combat in Afghanistan, Wren was on his third tour of duty and had recently been promoted to a job that involved training Iraqi military rather than combat missions, said his younger brother, Tim Puckett of Tampa.
"We really weren't that worried this time," he said.
Wren came from a family of veterans. His father served in Vietnam, and his grandfather was in World War II and the Korean War. His own interest in the Army dated to when he was a boy in elementary school, Puckett said.
"He was GI Joe from the word go," he said. "For Halloween, he was GI Joe. For Christmas. Any time he could dress up, he would."
In the tiny town of Harrisburg, friends and neighbors were reeling at the news of Fegler's death.
Like Wren, Fegler had been interested in the military since boyhood. "When he was very small, at recess, he and the boys would play at soldiers," said Sarah Lease, a classmate who had known him since first grade. "He loved serving his country. He talked about it all the time."
Fegler lived in Virginia Beach with his wife, Shianne, who is in the Navy, and their 2-year-old son, Aiden.
Tall, blond and lanky, he played basketball and football at Banner County High School, where the graduating class had 17 people. After high school, he spent four years in the Marines, and he enlisted in the Army this year, Lease said. He hoped to join the Special Forces.
Lease said she and her classmates visited Fegler's mother and stepfather Monday night to offer condolences. She said his death has touched everyone in Harrisburg, population 75.
"It's really made the war real," she said. "Until something like this happens, it doesn't seem like it's really there. In a community that's so small and everyone knows everyone, it's really opened people's eyes."
Jan Wiseman, whose son John Harsh was a close friend of Fegler's, recalled his close friendships. "There is a pack of six to eight boys that ran with each other all the time who have stayed very, very close," she said, adding that her son, a Marine, was on his way back to Harrisburg after hearing about Fegler's death. "They were brothers through and through, and that's how he felt about the military, too."
Puckett said that Wren was excited about his new posting in Iraq. "He felt that he was doing great work, helping to free the Iraqi people," he said.
Wren will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, his brother said. No funeral arrangements have been made for Fegler.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.