Brian and Glenda Hyde are determined to remember their son by the love and laughter he brought to their lives, rather than the brutal, sudden way he was taken from them.
So, every March 8, they throw a party.
Friends gather at their Modesto home, sharing stories and catching up over hors d'oeuvres and wine. It's not a typical party, and those who attend will tell you the Hydes are not a typical family.
On March 7, 2009, Army Lt. Daniel Hyde, 24, died in Iraq after a rocket-propelled grenade hit his caravan near Samarra. He was on his first tour of Iraq. His family holds the party to honor Daniel and those who supported, and continue to support, them.
"Obviously, this is always a hard time for us," Glenda Hyde said. "But Daniel would have said, 'Don't let people be sad.' "
"He was a great kid, a wonderful kid," said family friend Fred Miller, who attended this year's party on March 7. A poster in front of the house depicts Daniel and advice he offered when he earned The Bee's Teen Hall of Fame designation in high school: "Do not accept mediocrity in any aspect of your life."
Miller, whose daughter went to preschool with the Hydes' daughter, Andrea, spoke of Daniel's influence and leadership, combined with a natural modesty. "He affected a lot of people."
Most people who talk about the Hyde family use the word "strong." Brian is quiet, "I'm the chatty one," Glenda said.
She's so outspoken that friends encouraged her to write a book to encourage others experiencing loss. Thinking she could help people, Glenda gathered some of the 800 cards and letters the family received and got to work. Along the way, the story evolved. It became more about Daniel than about his mother.
"People need to know that this kid's character was so amazing," she said.
The book, which is in its early stages and has yet to find a publisher, follows Daniel's life, interspersed with messages the Hydes got from family and friends after his death in Iraq.
Mark Hogan, who attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with Daniel, wrote about the last time he saw his friend, nicknamed "Captain America" by his classmates. The two were at Ranger school, where Daniel "recycled" two of the three testing areas but eventually succeeded.
"It never crossed my mind that would be the last time I saw him. If I had known, I would have told him he is the most sincere and selfless friend I've ever had. I would have told him that he inspired me to work harder and be a better person. Because he was, and he is, the absolute best. You don't get any better than Dan Hyde, and that is a fact."
Daniel's character got an early push from an incident in the second grade that he wrote about in a high school essay. He got busted bringing a small pocketknife to school. Because he had no other transgressions, his principal let him off with a warning, one that stuck with him, his mother wrote. "I credit that amazing principal, Mrs. Marie Bairey, with Daniel's inability to break rules a character trait that defined him for the remainder of his life."
'Still get choked up'
The book is intensely personal, and parts of it are difficult to read, as Glenda recounts in explicit detail what happened when Daniel died. She describes the conversation in the vehicle just before the grenades hit, Daniel's extensive injuries and the heroic efforts to save his life.
She also recounts the night she was home alone and answered the knock on the door, and her reaction to seeing two men in Army uniforms on her front porch that they had come to do harm and were wearing costumes.
Then it hit her. "Oh, Lord, this is what happens when something happens to your kid."
Brian read an early draft of the book but not the later versions. It's tough content for anyone, almost unbearable for the people who lived it. "I've read it 30 times and there are times when I still get choked up," Glenda said.
But it's also full of the humor that is a hallmark of the Hyde family, such as pointing out that the Hyde children were required to attend the events each participated in. Hauling Daniel to Andrea's dance recitals grew to be less of a chore as he got older. "Watching young, beautiful girls dance seemed less like torture and much more enjoyable to him," his mother wrote.
The Hydes cite their faith as helping them get through the days. Glenda's book even quotes a friend of Daniel's saying it was just like him to go on ahead to heaven and smooth the path for everyone else.
But it's never easy, even things that should be, like their daughter, now 25 and living in Hermosa Beach, taking a trip. Glenda wrote that she struggles not to panic when she can't reach Andrea.
On one occasion, Glenda got mad at Andrea for not understanding what it was like to have only one child left, "how I would literally fall apart if anything happened to her." Andrea shot back about how hard it was to be that only child.
"From that day forward, we agreed that she would be as considerate as possible, when driving and flying, to let me know she arrived safe. I promised to not panic every time, instantly, and understand that things happen," Glenda wrote.
Army Sgt. Kieana Peluso, a recruiter in Modesto, calls the Hyde family an "inspiration."
"I see a difference in the way they have accepted their loss, with their actions and their spirit," she said. Peluso has lost friends to battle and said she has watched some families and friends crumble with grief. While it's clear the Hydes are heartbroken, they are determined to focus on the positive.
Glenda wrote: "When people repeatedly ask, 'How are you managing this horrific loss?' I say, 'Falling apart won't bring him back, and he would be very disappointed in me if I did.' I refuse to disappoint Daniel in that way. He never disappointed me."
Miller, the family friend, put it this way: The Hydes "elected to celebrate him rather than mourn what they had. But it never leaves either one of them."
Sculpture on campus
The book is just the most recent tribute to the young man who served as Downey High's only two-term student body president, a three-sport athlete who graduated with a GPA above 4.0. Downey, where Glenda works as a paraprofessional and cheerleading coach, has retired Daniel's No. 13 football jersey and erected a memorial by Oakdale sculptor Betty Saletta, paid for by the sale of bracelets honoring Daniel.
The sculpture is familiar to anyone who has seen a military memorial in the Middle East a gun, boots, helmet and dog tags. The boots came from Daniel's commander. "I never got back the boots he was wearing," Glenda said. The rubber gun replica came from a friend of Daniel's. But the dog tags are the real thing, the tags Daniel wore.
"The thing about it is, this piece has so much meaning from a military standpoint," Brian Hyde said. "It's very recognizable."
The Hydes said Downey students who by now know Daniel only by reputation have been respectful of the memorial and of the family. The memorial is in the Milford Olsen garden, which honors a former Downey principal.
Glenda also had Daniel's name, in his handwriting, tattooed on her hand. "He's always right there," she said. There's a tattoo with Andrea's name on Glenda's arm.
A living remembrance
And there's another tribute to Daniel, one that breathes and coos and giggles.
Darrin and Christina Rubalcava had a son seven months ago. Darrin, a childhood friend of Daniel's, chose to name the baby after him. His wife, who knew Daniel in junior high school, approved.
Darrin said he went several years without seeing Daniel the two went to different high schools. But when they ran into each other at a football game it was as if no time had passed.
"He was always that way and it just really stuck with me," Darrin said. "This is my way of being able to remember him and hope that our son will grow up to be even half the man he was."
Glenda's book concludes:
"Daniel Hyde, you will always be a hero. But you were my hero long before March 7, 2009. God blessed my life richly with you and I appreciate and treasure the 24 years and 40 days I had with you, my one and only precious son. Love, Mama."
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.