NEWPORT NEWS—When Doug Horner learned that his brother had been killed in Iraq, he couldn't get the image of an enemy rifleman out of his mind.
Army Sgt. Bruce Horner -- a 43-year-old, 18-year military veteran from Newport News -- was killed June 1 by a sniper in Baghdad.
His personality was larger than life, said David Willis, Sgt. Horner's pastor and long-time friend.
"If you didn't have a friend, you just needed to meet Bruce."
Because of that love for life, the 200 mourners gathered Thursday used the service as a time to celebrate his legacy.
"That's the way he would have wanted it," Willis added. "There is a time to weep and a time to laugh. There is a time to grieve and a time to dance."
And according to the many stories friends shared at the service, for Sgt. Horner there was always a time to eat.
"The boy loved to eat," one of his oldest friends told the crowd.
In ranking the list of things he loved, a good buffet fell somewhere between his marriage and his friends, Sgt. Horner's widow, Erin, said.
Sgt. Horner was equally dedicated to his convictions, a love for the Lord and going to the gym.
Sure, he was always in good shape.
But when friends ran into him at the gym they'd typically find him "standing around talking" in his tank top and weight belt. The crowd erupted in knowing laughter at that particular memory.
Sgt. Horner was one of the greatest church recruiters, Willis said. New people would often come to Sunday services at Olivet, saying they'd been invited by Sgt. Horner when they met him at the gym.
"Bruce never met a stranger," one person said.
And he rarely let music play without singing or dancing along.
"I know he danced through those pearly gates and now heaven will never be the same."
He's left big shoes to fill, one friend said. "Did you ever see the size of his feet?" he added with a laugh, thinking of his 6-foot-4 friend.
An Air Force buddy told the congregation that Sgt. Horner also loved to foster their healthy Army versus Air Force rivalry.
Sgt. Horner joked that in Army basic training, new soldiers were issued combat boots. New airmen, he would say, are issued combat slippers.
He teased out of love for the Army. His military service was something he was proud of.
He was so committed to it, in fact, that he spent part of his two-week vacation from the war zone visiting wounded soldiers.
Partly because of that dedication, Erin Horner made sure that Sgt. Horner's burial service was filled with every military honor he was entitled to.
Unlike at the church, where laughter stood in the place of tears, the graveside ceremony at Peninsula Memorial Park in Newport News was somber.
Soldiers from a Fort Eustis honor guard greeted Sgt. Horner's casket with sharp, steady salutes.
The crowd put their hands over their hearts when soldiers lifted the American flag covering Sgt. Horner's casket.
Loved ones wept openly while a lone bugler played taps, then grew quiet as they watched an Army general kneel down before Erin.
On behalf of a grateful nation, he presented her with the folded flag.
Erin accepted the flag with a soft "thank you." She was grateful, too, for having been part of Sgt. Horner's life.