Marana's hotshot hero goes to his resting place

At just 25, he had put himself in harm's way in both Iraq and as a fireman, mourners note
2013-07-11T00:00:00Z 2013-07-23T17:20:23Z Marana's hotshot hero goes to his resting placeCarmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A procession of Southern Arizona firefighters, U.S. Forest Service personnel and hotshot crews were among those accompanying the body of William "Billy" Warneke to his final resting place Wednesday.

Warneke's casket was on top of a Prescott fire engine that made its way to Marana Mortuary & Cemetery, 12146 W. Barnett Road.

About 1,000, including people lining roads, paid their final respects to the Marana-area resident.

Warneke, 25, was among 19 of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott.

About 70 of Warneke's family and relatives rode in the fire trucks, escorting his body from Marana Northwest Regional Airport, 11700 W. Avra Valley Road.

The body was flown in an Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter from Prescott to the airport.

People lined roads to say farewell along the 6.5-mile procession route.

As the fire engine entered the cemetery, it passed 50 flags held by Patriot Guard Riders, an organization that honors veterans. Warneke was a four-year Marine veteran who served a tour in Iraq.

The Guard Riders were invited by his widow, Roxanne. Roxanne, who is expecting William's and her first child in December, was surrounded by family.

Once the flag-draped casket was taken off the fire truck, it was handed to pallbearers who carried it to the grave site.

Bagpipes were played by Northwest Fire District and Tucson Fire Department members. A breeze blew on the muggy day, an afternoon so hot that five people attending the procession or service were treated for heat illness.

"We are here to celebrate Bill's life," said Chaplain Tim LaPorte. "He touched so many lives with his generosity and spirit."

Navy SEAL Fred Warneke, William's older brother, addressed the crowd with words from the heart.

"I always looked up to him. His ethics were beyond any I've ever known.

"I will model the rest of my life after William, and I will remember him forever," he said.

A U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard gave a 21-gun salute to Warneke, followed by Taps.

In an interview before the service, Brian Delfs, chief of the Avra Valley Fire District, said, "In addition to Billy being part of our extended firefighter family, he was a recruit of mine at Pima Community College Fire Academy. He was one of those recruits that you always remember because he was the genuine article.

"He was hard-working. He was humble. And he just exemplified the service mentality that we like to see in a young firefighter," Delfs said.

Ray Klein, also an Avra Valley Fire District firefighter, said: "Firefighters have had a long tradition of brotherhood. We are a family. We all come together to support the families and help each other through these difficult times."

Rillito community resident Juanita Carbajal, 69, said she was moved to come to the service to "show my respects for the family. I feel for the wife, she is so young and is expecting their first baby," she said. "I will be praying for the family."

Arizona Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Guy Peabody said: "I came today to pay homage to a young man who twice put himself in harm's way for all of us." Peabody noted Warneke's military duty as a Marine, and his service as an elite hotshot.

"This is the least I can do, to show respect for someone who has given so much. God bless him," Peabody said.

Andrea Reid, 59, an east-side Tucson resident, said she works with Roxanne Warneke's mother. "I'm here to pay my respects to the family and to show support. My prayers are with the family," Reid said.

On Tuesday, thousands attended a memorial service in Prescott, including Vice President Joe Biden, who described the fallen crew as "men of uncommon valor," The Associated Press reported. Biden also thanked God for the sole survivor, Brendan McDonough, who spoke at the service, telling the crowd he missed his brothers.

In April, William and Roxanne Warneke bought four acres and a mobile home that Warneke was remodeling off a dirt road in Avra Valley. Now, local firefighters and others from across Southern Arizona, along with volunteers and businesses, have pledged to take on the $100,000 renovation project in memory of Warneke and for Roxanne.

It was also in April that Warneke joined the hotshot crew.

Warneke and Roxanne grew up in Hemet, Calif., and Warneke followed Roxanne to Tucson after he was discharged from the Marine Corps.

The two were married in 2008 at downtown Tucson's county courthouse.

Nearing the end of the funeral service, a last call for Warneke was heard by all personnel in fire units and stations in the field.

"William Warneke of the Granite Mountain Hotshots has completed his last call. He will be forever in our hearts," a dispatcher for the City of Tucson Communications Center said.

Then a bell tolled to honor his life and service.

On StarNet: Watch a slideshow from Wednesday's procession and memorial service in Marana at azstarnet.com/gallery

"I always looked up to him. His ethics were beyond any I've ever known. I will model the rest of my life after William, and I will remember him forever."

Fred Warneke, Navy SEAL and William's older brother

INSIDE

Arizona breweries join to create beer honoring hotshots. Page A9

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte cduarte@azstarnet.com or 573-4104.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Event Calendar

Today's events | Add an event

Most viewed: