A popular Ellensburg High School teacher who barely survived the Vietnam War collapsed and died in front of students during a morning class.
Ray Westberg, an English teacher and longtime wrestling coach, was 47. The school district said he apparently died of a heart attack Thursday.
Students described the teacher as part drill sergeant and part sea captain, steering them through the pages of such classics as Homer’s “Odyssey.”
Last spring, students voted him teacher of the year.
“He really seemed to have life figured out,” said Marcus Mays, a senior who wrestled and studied under Westberg. “We liked that about him.”
About 25 students were attending Westberg’s second-period English class Thursday when Westberg stopped talking about grammar rules in mid-sentence and collapsed into a chair before dropping to the floor, Mays said.
Students ran for help. Westberg was pronounced dead at a hospital at about 9:20 a.m.
Classes continued at the school the rest of the day.
Although Westberg was reserved about his time in Vietnam, colleagues and friends recalled he fought as a Marine. Seriously injured in battle, he spent time in a veterans hospital and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Gene Jump, principal of Valley View Elementary School, said Westberg still carried shrapnel in his body.
“Ninety percent of his life was teaching,” Jump said. “The rest was recuperating from the Vietnam experience.”
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