The sapling has flourished into a tree at Trinity High School — a memorial to a graduate who was killed in 2004 in Iraq.
Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Eggers died in the blast of an improvised explosive device. He was 27, married and the father of twin boys who were 2 1/2 years old and a son who was 1.
“I don’t think you ever stop hurting,” his mother, Dianne Eggers of Euless, said last week. “You just learn to deal with it.”
Jeff and Camille Hornbeck of Fort Worth also lost their son in 2004 to an IED in Iraq.
Master Sgt. Kelly Hornbeck, 37, was a career Army Special Forces soldier. He had two daughters.
“There’s a hole there, and you can’t fill it,” Jeff Hornbeck said of parents who lose children in war. “We give them a decent funeral, we look after their children, and we support each other.
“And then we move on.”
In addition to Kyle Eggers and Kelly Hornbeck, two other servicemen from Tarrant County died a decade ago in Iraq. They were Army Pfc. Ervin Dervishi, 21, a native of Albania who settled in Fort Worth, and Marine Sgt. Foster Harrington, 31, of Fort Worth. Their families could not be reached for interviews last week.
According to a list kept by the Star-Telegram, 119 North Texans have died in Afghanistan or Iraq since 2003; 50 had connections to Tarrant County.
Hornbeck graduated in 1985 from Paschal High School in Fort Worth. Eggers got his diploma 10 years later from Trinity.
Both wanted to make careers in the Army, and both aspired to lead soldiers in combat, their parents said.
But their sons were intensely focused on trying to ensure that fellow soldiers returned home, they said.
‘I’m hurt, but I’m going to stay here’
Kyle Eggers, who joined the Army soon after graduation, was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division based in South Korea. Some units deployed to Iraq, and he went with them.
Dianne Eggers said her son was in two IED explosions. The first wounded his arm.
“He was so upset that his arm was hurt, and he couldn’t hold his gun and reload it to help his guys,” she recalled. “He could have come home, but he wasn’t going to.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m hurt, but I’m going to stay here.’ He felt that’s where his kids needed him.”
The second IED blast was on Dec. 5, 2004, near Al Habbaniyah, about 100 miles west of Baghdad.
He was on patrol with two younger soldiers, ages 19 and 21. They were wounded, but Eggers was killed instantly, his mother said.
‘I never get tired of looking at his picture’
Jeff Hornbeck, a retired Air Force major, flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam. His son faced much greater risks, he said.
Kelly Hornbeck served 17 years in the Army, most of it in special operations.
Fellow soldiers have shared “Kelly stories” with his parents. “And there are lots of them,” Jeff Hornbeck said. “I continue to be amazed.
“He served on a Special Forces team in South America and a Delta Force team in Afghanistan, but he achieved a personal goal when he was selected to lead his Special Forces team into combat in Iraq as the team sergeant.
“That’s what he was doing when he died.”
Kelly Hornbeck was on patrol Jan. 18, 2004, when his vehicle was hit by an IED near Samarra, about 130 miles north of Baghdad. He died two days later.
His father said he still gets emotional thinking about his son.
“I’ll just be sitting outside on my porch, and I tear up because I remember something he did or said,” Jeff Hornbeck said. “I never get tired of looking at his picture.”
‘They know their dad was a hero’
Memorial Day this year, May 26, is the date Kyle Eggers was born. He would have been 37.
Dianne Eggers said she and her husband, Keith, see their son’s three boys frequently, even though they live in another state.
The twins, Tegan and Kaden, are 12, and Zane is 11. Their mother, Jennifer, leaves posts on a memorial Facebook page for Kyle Eggers, recalling milestones such as the day they met and when he left home for the last time.
“He loved his kids very much,” Dianne Eggers said. “They know their dad was a hero and they know their dad served his country. They’re very proud of that.”
The Hornbecks also keep in close contact with their son’s daughters, Jacqueline, 20, and Tyler, 17.
“They’re impressive young women, and they’re going to be fine,” Jeff Hornbeck said.
Last week, the Hornbecks’ 50th wedding anniversary was celebrated by fellow members of Travis Avenue Baptist Church. The congregation never stopped comforting them after their son died, Camille Hornbeck said.
“They just carry us along,” she said. “They’re big supporters for our men and women in service, and they understand that it’s a loss we’ll probably never forget. But because we have so many prayers here, the pains are not as great.”
‘Get all your people home’
Both sets of parents said their sons would be relieved to know that fellow soldiers made it home.
And both families have become lifelong friends with soldiers who served with their sons.
Dianne Eggers said she watches the Facebook page for Kyle. She is heartened to see how the soldiers, when missing their sergeant, write posts to encourage one another, including the two men who survived the blast.
“Both are out of military now and doing OK,” she said. “I think they struggle, but I don’t think you ever get over something like that.”
Jeff Hornbeck said his son’s teammates have reached middle age; his captain is now a lieutenant colonel.
“People who serve in fighting forces, their fear is not being hurt or killed,” he said. “They mostly fear letting a teammate down. But I think Kelly would have been pleased that all of his team came home.
“That’s a team leader’s goal: to accomplish the job and get all your people home.”