Staff Sgt. Chris Van Der Horn: Heroic Aspirations

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Staff Sgt. Chris Van Der Horn was the first reported U.S. combat death of 2006. The father of two grew up in Bellevue, Wash. Keith Seinfeld of member station KPLU has this remembrance.

INSKEEP: This morning we're remembering the first soldier killed in Iraq in 2006. Keith Seinfeld of member station KPLU has the story of Staff Sergeant Chris Van Der Horn.

Mr. KEITH SEINFELD (KPLU Reporter): Looking back, Chris Van Der Horn's parents, Nancy and Bob, say it seems almost like he was destined to be a soldier. The family had no military connections, but from the earliest age, Chris was drawn to the idea of the soldier hero.

Ms. NANCY VAN DER HORN (mother of Chris): It was soldiers, I'm gonna be a policeman, I'm gonna be a fireman, or a superhero. There was a period of life, when he was around three or four, where he had his Batman cape and he wore it everywhere for a year, church, pre-school and shopping. And he liked playing with guns.

Mr. BOB VAN DER HORN (father of Chris): We decided to raise our children without guns until we found that every stick in the yard turned into a gun and every finger was gun. And we finally just gave up as we were beaten to submission so...

SEINFELD: Chris grew up in a woodsy neighborhood just outside Seattle. In 1989, when he was just 20, Chris enlisted in the Army.

VAN DER HORN: We thought it would be a good decision because he was having a hard time trying to get himself into a career or any type of a set pattern and we thought the Army would be good for him. And it was.

SEINFELD: While on a training assignment in Arkansas he met his future wife Teresa. Chris served in Bosnia and West Africa. After seven years he left the Army and he and Teresa settled in Tacoma, not far from his parents. He worked as a police officer and continued in the National Guard. During this time, their first son was born. Then, at age 35, after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he decided he wanted to go back into the Army.

VAN DER HORN: We were really surprised when he went back in the second time.

SEINFELD: Chris's father Bob.

VAN DER HORN: But I think that, he wasn't very happy in civilian life. He just could not find a position to where he felt comfortable.

SEINFELD: His wife Teresa Van Der Horn says, at first she wasn't sure if he was serious. But when Chris was able to lose 40 pounds in four months to meet the requirements, she saw how badly he wanted it.

Ms. TERESA VAN DER HORN (Wife): We prayed about it and I said well, if he actually gets in, then that must be where God wants him, you know?

SEINFELD: She said, I'll be with you whatever it takes. But others were bewildered.

Mrs. VAN DER HORN: I remember my dad saying, you know why would he do that? Why didn't he just take care of his family? And I said, I think this is his way of taking care of his family. He feels like protecting our country and helping take care of the terrorism issues and helping the Iraqis. Those are all things that are important that are going to make our world better for our family. And if men like him don't step to the plate then who will?

SEINFELD: Staff Sergeant Chris Van Der Horn was killed on January first, north of Baghdad. He was riding in a HumVee when a roadside bomb exploded and flipped the truck he was 37. He leaves his wife Teresa, his five year old son Max, and five month old son Liam. For NPR News, I'm Keith Seinfeld, in Seattle.

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