Family members have confirmed that Atwater High School 1998 graduate Terry Hurne died in Afghanistan on Monday, just a few weeks before he was scheduled to return home.
Hurne, 34, was serving his second tour in Afghanistan but was set to come home on July 4, according to his father, Norman Hurne. Hurne said his son, an Army specialist, was supposed to be “cleaning up” and tearing down barracks.
“He couldn’t discuss what he was doing over there, but he was looking forward to getting out of there,” Hurne said Tuesday. “He was trying to make the best of every day.”
The U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday confirmed that Hurne died while in Logar province. According to a statement, Hurne was killed in a “non-combat related” incident.
Hurne’s father said the circumstances surrounding his son’s death are still under investigation.
A group gathered at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Atwater on Tuesday to pray and mourn Hurne’s death. It was the same church where Hurne married his wife eight years ago, his father said.
Terry Hurne joined the military in 2007, after working for Central Valley Electric and various construction jobs, his father said. He leaves behind two sisters, one brother and his wife, Natalie.
Hurne said his son was stationed at Fort Drum in New York with his wife, who had recently bought him a new car to drive back to their home in Merced County.
“It was going to be a present for him; he didn’t even know about it,” he said. “They were going to come back (to Merced) the weekend of July 4.”
Though he hadn’t seen his son in nine months, Hurne said he spoke to him on the telephone last month. On Tuesday, Hurne said he had received a flood of calls from people in the community, remembering his son and sharing heartfelt condolences.
“We’ve gotten a lot calls today and yesterday because it went out over Facebook,” Hurne said. “Everybody loved him. He always had a smile on his face.”
“I’m going through memories right now,” the grieving father added, “all the way through his childhood.”
Atwater resident Kevin Navarra said he has known the Hurne family for about nine years. Terry Hurne’s mother-in-law was a baby sitter of Navarra’s 12-year-old daughter, and the families often shared in birthday parties and other social gatherings.
“We grew a close bond with the family,” Navarra said, adding that he learned of Hurne’s death Monday. “I was in total shock. He was a family man and volunteered his time to the community. He was just a warm-hearted person that wanted to give more than take.”
Navarra, who is the head football coach for Buhach Colony High School, said Hurne’s death brought back memories of losing Marine Cpl. Joshua Pickard, who in 2006 was killed in Iraq during combat.
“We are lucky as Americans, and sometimes in our family lives we forget about the military and what they are doing around the world,” Navarra said. “You always think it won’t happen to us. But when it hits close to home there’s an even deeper appreciation for the sacrifice they made for all of us.”
Atwater High School Principal Alan Peterson said that as a student Hurne was involved in the culinary club, Sierra Nevada club and choir.
Peterson said the school’s flag will be flown at half-staff for the remainder of the week in memory of Hurne. Though Peterson did not know Hurne personally, he called the incident a tragedy.
“My understanding is his family was looking forward to him coming home, and our heart goes out to them,” Peterson said. “Anytime it happens in your backyard it’s a wake-up call.”
Peterson said 20 graduates from Atwater High’s class of 2014 will be going into the armed services this year. “The military is a good opportunity for many students,” he said, “but there is a tragic reality.”
Norman Hurne said his son’s body will be returned to New York this week for a funeral service. A second service will be planned in Merced.