Private Vincent Wiebe, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (June 20, 2007)

Pte. Joel Vincent Wiebe enjoyed the mission to Afghanistan where he was to die, and had a positive outlook and an ability to lift the spirits of his troop through his jokes, the funeral heard.

Wiebe grew up loving animals, was affectionately known in high school as one of "the jerks" for the hours he and friends spent at video games and Dungeons and Dragons, and became a passionate soldier.

Anna Thede, centre, fiancee of Pte. Joel Vincent Wiebe, is comforted by Sherry Clark, Wiebe's mother, as family members watch his coffin being dressed with the Canadian flag in front of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church after a service on Saturday. Wiebe was killed June 20 by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

He died a day before his 23rd birthday.

Wiebe was among a trio of soldiers killed June 20 by a roadside bomb as they passed by in an M-Gator unarmoured vehicle in the Panjwaii valley, an hour's drive southwest of Kandahar. The military has since suspended the use of M-Gators beyond secure compounds.

The three, including Sgt. Christos

Karigiannis of Montreal and Cpl. Stephen Bouzane of St. Patrick's, N.L., had been due to leave Afghanistan in August.

Under clear blue skies Saturday, Wiebe was eulogized at Trinity Lutheran Church in the Old Strathcona district, the same church where he and his partner Anna Thede were to be married following his seven-month tour of duty.

An honour guard and about 200 regimental comrades from Pte. Wiebe's Edmonton 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, along with family members and friends, packed the small church for his funeral.

"This is a day of mourning," said Canadian military spokesman Capt. Mark Peebles, "not just for Pte. Wiebe's family, but for his military family, members of the 3rd Battalion and members of this brigade and the army at large. This is a time to remember him, to honour him, and to be with each other to find strength from each other in this time of grieving."

When the hearse and funeral procession arrived at the church, a military guard "undressed" the light oak casket before pallbearers carried it inside. Wiebe's beret, medals, white dress belt with bayonet, a wreath and Canadian flag draping the coffin were ceremoniously removed prior to the funeral service.

Thede issued a brief statement through the military.

"This is a small step in our grieving process," she said. "Family and friends gathered today to remember the wonderful man that Joel was and the life he had. Although we are all very sad, we find strength in being together and the many fond memories we have of Joel."

Wiebe and Thede lived together prior to his mission to Afghanistan and became engaged Feb. 19, just four hours before he shipped out.

Several family members, friends and a military representative gave eulogies at the private funeral.

Media were not allowed inside the church, but the funeral program portrayed Wiebe as a lover of animals who had gophers, mice, cats, dogs and a horse as pets while growing up. As a child, he would not let his father kill gophers on the family farm, with the result it had an epidemic of the pests.

Wiebe's love of animals continued in Afghanistan, where he caught and kept a camel spider as a pet.