The Horne boys from Johns Island spent their spring break with their mom, Rachel, in California.
Kade, 13; Miller, 8; and 6-year-old Wells were not vacationing. They were on a different mission that involved the U.S. Coast Guard and the newly commissioned cutter named for their father, Terrell E. Horne III.
In December 2012, Horne was stationed in San Pedro as a senior chief petty officer and was second in command of the USCGC Halibut. On a dark night in a cove near Santa Cruz, Horne and three other crew members approached a suspected drug smuggling boat silently floating in the water. Horne and his crew were in a small, inflatable craft. As the inflatable drew closer and closer, the suspicious boat gunned its engine and rammed the Coast Guard vessel, knocking Horne and two crew members into the murky water.
Terrell Horne died of a head injury, but he also pushed another crew member out of the path of the escaping boat’s propeller, at the cost of his own life. At the time, Rachel had two little boys and was seven months pregnant with another.
Watching with her boys as the cutter was commissioned in her husband’s memory, she confesses, was both beautiful and overwhelming. “It was hard and emotional, but it created important opportunities to reflect.”
You can go home, again
On that dark and tragic day in December 2012, Rachel immediately knew she wanted to return to her roots in Charleston. There were family and friends here. It was where she and Terrell met and married. She wasn’t at all sure what the future might look like, but she felt like Charleston would be the best place to drop the family anchor.
“They were so little when he died,” she says one recent morning while dropping them off at their various schools. “We keep their dad’s pictures and medals on display, but every year, I have to answer more complicated questions.”
This is Rachel’s first year back to work as a teacher. She works at Second Presbyterian Church, where the youngest also attends. With the oldest in middle school and the second child in elementary school, she leaves the house running every morning.
“The hole is still there, it never goes away. I still miss him,” Rachel candidly admits while heading to work with little Wells asking various questions from the back seat.
Rachel was told to fill those holes with life experiences. She does that by surrounding the boys with family and friends. There are also the ongoing trips to tennis, swimming and soccer.
“It hurts, but what hurts most is knowing what the boys lost.”
The Coast Guard has certainly remained vigilant these past few years. As the smallest branch of the military, not many deaths strike its ranks. When it does happen, it resonates in a profound way.
In Emerald Isle, N.C., a street is named for Terrell, at the base where he was once stationed. Outside Los Angeles, a command building bears the Horne name and in late March, the newly commissioned USCGC Terrell Horne now patrols the waters of California, as well as the international waters of Mexico and Central America.
It’s the more personal approach by some of the Coasties that are helping to fill the holes in the Horne’s household. A backyard playground was built for the kids by some personnel who never even knew Horne. Some Saturdays, others from the Charleston base show up to do yard work. Each December, the family is taken into the harbor for a wreath laying ceremony.
Everybody wants to provide support to a grieving family in the early going. How many stay this committed more than six years after such a tragic loss?
Chip Carpenter is a local businessman and Rachel’s father. He says, “We miss him every day, he was the kind of son-in-law you could only wish for.”
Rachel is happy she and the boys spent their spring break at a Coast Guard base in California. “To see so many members in their white uniforms to honor Terrell, it helped my boys know it’s not just mom who feels this way. It validates what I try to teach them.”
There are still difficult conversations that must be had from time to time. But as Rachel continues to fill those holes, she knows deep down how much Terrell enjoyed being a dad. A smile creeps to her face as she recalls, “He loved baths.”
No wonder, Rachel, he was around water most of his life.
When you see this family, be sure to tell them you’re glad they dropped anchor here. Filling those holes requires all hands on deck.