Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:43 UK

Grief hangs over Texas army town

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Killeen, Texas

Photos of Chris Kiernan
Donna Kiernan's home has become a shrine to her husband

The war is five years old, but in the town of Killeen, Texas, Iraq is not being forgotten.

While much of America has switched its focus to an election campaign, here there are constant reminders of the sacrifice made.

Killeen is home to America's largest military base, Fort Hood, and most of those who live here have ties with the US military.

On the base itself there are two sombre memorials.

Hundreds of stars for each parent serving from Fort Hood line the corridors of the local high school.

And just outside the town itself is the most poignant reminder - a recently opened military cemetery where they are still preparing fresh graves.

Huge black granite stones bear the faces of soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Painful memories

Killeen has already lost more than 400 of its soldiers, leaving behind about 200 widows.

Donna Kiernan lost her husband Chris almost a year ago.

He was a tank commander killed by sniper fire.

A lot of people don't know that five of our soldiers died last week; and before that was three; and before that was six

Donna Kiernan

Her home has now become his shrine, the fireplace lined with huge poster-sized photos of Chris in uniform along with his medals and other mementoes.

It does not take much for Donna to break down in tears.

"It doesn't get any easier as the days go by," she tells me.

With so many painful memories, she is now preparing to leave Killeen.

She still questions whether the sacrifice was worth it.

"See a lot of people don't know that five of our soldiers died last week; and before that was three; and before that was six," she says.

"I know this because I go to my husband's grave.

"When he was buried the row ended, but now there's a whole new row in front of him, and there's 16 graves without markers. They can't make headstones fast enough."

Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon has had to open her bakery on her own

Others take comfort from being among the wider military family.

Kim Gordon had a dream of opening a bakery in Killeen with her husband David.

In the end she has had to do it alone. David was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb.

The bakery that now carries his name and his photograph is her tribute to him.

"I want everyone to know about him," she tells me, her eyes filled with emotion.

"So when I put his picture on the wall and I tell my story - that's my way of saying that my husband went to Iraq and he passed away and he meant something. He's not just another number."

Despite those fears, the dead are not being forgotten.


A half-hour drive from Killeen, artist Phil Taylor is delivering a special gift.

In his spare time he paints the portraits of those who have died in battle.

Today he is delivering a portrait to the family of Robert Horrigan, a special forces soldier who died hunting down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Portrait of deceased US special forces soldier, Robert Horrigan
Robert Horrigan went to Iraq five times

Phil says he cannot bring a soldier back to life, but he can bring back their presence.

Robert's twin brother John wipes away a tear as Phil unveils the portrait.

He tells Phil he has captured his fallen brother's eyes.

Robert believed in what he was doing, John says.

Why else, he asks, did he go to serve his country in Iraq five times?

The sense of grief hangs heavy in this small part of Texas.

But there is also still hope that the sacrifice will not have been in vain.

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