Eastside solider killed in Iraq 2006-01-03
by Dean A. Radford Journal Reporter
Born on Flag Day in 1968, 37-year-old Christopher J. Van Der Horn, who grew up in Beaux Arts Village, died Sunday serving his country in Iraq.
The Army staff sergeant was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in As Sinia, while he was on patrol, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
His parents, Robert and Karen Van Der Horn of Beaux Arts Village, learned of his death from an Army chaplain and a sergeant who came to their home.
``He had a ready heart for God and his family and his friends and his country,'' his mother said on Monday.
His family always flew an American Flag on his birthday, she said.
Handsome and talkative, his presence was always felt in a room, she said. A singer, he had the lead in a junior high production of ``Grease,'' but his mother said he got ``a little restless'' in high school, eventually earning a GED.
His wife, Teresa, and their sons, Max, 5, and Liam, 4 months, live on the Fort Campbell Army base in Kentucky where he was stationed.
Nancy Van Der Horn said her son first joined the service in his early 20s and served for 7 1/2 years in Hawaii and Italy. He saw combat in Bosnia and in Sierra Leone in Africa.
With little chance at the time for advancement in the Army, his mother said, he left the service and returned to Washington. He and his wife lived in north Tacoma and he was a reserve officer in the Milton and Ruston police departments, she said. He was a court officer in Fife and served in the Army Reserves.
In 2004, he and Teresa decided he should re-enlist in the Army when the United States was deep in the war in Iraq, according to his mother.
His parents last spoke to him on Christmas Day. Because of the Iraqi elections, he was getting some rest, his mother said.
Van Der Horn was assigned to the Army's 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
Two other soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division died on Friday, according to the Army.
The Army said 35 troops from Fort Campbell have been killed since the 101st Airborne returned to Iraq for a second yearlong tour starting in September. More than 90 soldiers based at Fort Campbell have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
A memorial service is planned for later at the family's First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue. Per his wishes, according to his mother, Van Der Horn will be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Maple Valley. A fund is being set up to help pay for his sons' college education.
Dean Radford can be reached at dean.radford(at)kingcountyjournal.com . The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Sorrowful new year for soldier's family
Sergeant who grew up here killed in Iraq
By DEBORAH BACH
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Nancy Van Der Horn always figured her middle child, Chris, would become a policeman, a firefighter or a soldier.
As a child, he would recruit his younger brother, Craig, for cowboy and Army games, running around in his Superman cape and playing with GI Joes. His parents were hardly surprised when Chris joined the Army in the late 1980s, at age 20.
Zoom Gilbert W. Arias / P-I
A picture of Chris Van Der Horn holding his newborn son, Liam, this past August is held by his mother, Nancy Van Der Horn of Bellevue. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Van Der Hor, 37, who was raised in Beaux Arts Village, was killed Sunday in As Sinia, Iraq.
"He was a soldier at heart," Nancy Van Der Horn said. "That's just who he was."
More surprising was Chris Van Der Horn's decision to re-enlist in his mid-30s, after almost eight years in the civilian world. When Craig heard of his older brother's plans, his mother recalled, he asked why Chris didn't find a job at a youth camp or somewhere he could make a difference at home. She relayed the message to Chris, and he laughed, saying he had his own youth group -- soldiers -- and besides, he got to play with guns.
Today, Nancy Van Der Horn finds some measure of comfort in the knowledge that her 37-year-old son, raised in Beaux Arts Village on the Eastside, died fulfilling what he considered a calling.
Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Van Der Horn, assigned to the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., was killed Sunday in As Sinia, Iraq, becoming the first U.S. serviceman the Defense Department identified as being killed in Iraq in 2006. Stationed at Camp Summerall in Bayji, north of Baghdad, Van Der Horn was on his way to another assignment when a bomb exploded near the truck he was riding in.
A total of 114 members of the U.S. armed forces with ties to Washington state have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Ten others have been killed in Afghanistan.
Chris Van Der Horn's widow, Teresa, understood the risks when her husband re-enlisted in the Army two years ago. She also understood how important it was to him. Van Der Horn had served as a reserve police officer in several Washington state departments, worked as a court marshal in Fife and did a brief stint in border control with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she said, he talked often about wanting to do more to protect his country.
"I knew that this was what he wanted to do. It's what he believed in, so I supported him," she said. "He'd been happier than he'd been in the last 11 years."
Her husband, Teresa said, was outgoing and had a knack for making people feel at ease. He led by example, she said. "He was very much a teacher and not a drill instructor kind of guy. He earned a lot of respect because of that."
The couple met in March 1991, when Van Der Horn and a few Army buddies made a wrong turn down a one-way street in Arkansas, heading straight toward the car Teresa's friend was driving. Indignantly, the girls stopped their car and jumped out. The young men explained that they were looking for a movie theater and to apologize for the near mishap, offered to buy the girls tickets. They headed off to see the Steve Martin comedy "L.A. Story," with Teresa and Chris sitting next to each other and chatting through most of the movie.
Van Der Horn soon returned to his Army base in Hawaii. The couple talked on the phone every night, and five months later, he proposed. They married in Bellevue in January 1992. The newlyweds spent a year in Hawaii, then three years stationed in Italy, before moving back to the Seattle area in 1996. Their first son, Max, was born Aug. 8, 2000, five years to the day before little brother, Liam, arrived.
Liam was born in Kentucky a few weeks before his dad left Fort Campbell for Iraq. It would be the last time his family saw Chris. He called home on Christmas Day, speaking with Nancy, his father, Bob, Craig, 35, and older sister Chery, 40.
Teresa spoke with him on Wednesday at her father's home in Arkansas. Chris asked about their travel plans, wanting to know when they would be back in Kentucky so he could call. He was particularly excited to talk to Max, asking if he liked the Batman toy he got for Christmas. The couple ended the conversation the way they always did: "I love you, I love you, too, talk to you soon."
Teresa had gone through deployment training before Chris left for Iraq. She had the necessary documents in order and knew what she needed to do if something happened. Still, nothing could prepare her for the knock at her door about 9 a.m. on New Year's Day.
"I still ... I still can't think ... of all the people, how could this happen to Chris?" she wondered. "With all the training he's done and all the years he's done ... he was prepared. But no matter how much you're prepared, you can't account for what the enemy is going to do."
Teresa summoned the strength to tell Max that there had been an accident in Iraq, that his daddy had died. Who, the little boy asked, is going to be my daddy now?
Nancy and Bob Van Der Horn were still in bed when their phone rang about 7 a.m. Sunday. Nancy hoped it would be Chris, but it was Teresa, having to deliver the worst call a parent can receive. An Army chaplain and sergeant arrived soon after.
Chris Van Der Horn's body will be sent home in about five days. The family will arrange a military burial at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent and a memorial at First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, as Chris had requested. For Nancy, solace is found in the belief that Chris was doing what he was intended to do.
"We just trusted God that if he got back in (to the Army), that's where God wanted him," she said. "We have to rest in that. We can't play the 'if' and 'but' and 'what if?' kind of game.
"Above all, we want to honor him and his role in the service."
P-I reporter Deborah Bach can be reached at deborahbach(at)seattlepi.com.