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Wheaton neighbors pay tribute to fallen Marine
By Kathleen Slovick | Daily Herald Columnist

Marine Capt. Eric Terhune died last month while serving in Afghanistan

 

Shirley Zeigler, whose family served as the "host" family to Marine Capt. Eric Terhune, visits a memorial created outside her Wheaton home. Terhune died last month while serving in Afghanistan.

 

Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/16/2008 12:08 AM

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The black wrought-iron silhouette of a kneeling Marine has stood in front of the Wheaton home for more than two years.

Now that a name has appeared on the stark background, flowers have begun to appear, seemingly from out of nowhere.

After word reached the Zeigler family that Marine Capt. Eric Terhune of Lexington, Ky., was killed last month in Afghanistan, they knew they had to change the purpose of the structure on their front yard. For the Zeiglers, Terhune was like family.

"Originally, it was to honor all soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Shirley Zeigler, whose son Stuart also is in the military. "Now that people see a name and date on it, people are dropping things off, like a memorial."

Zeigler and her husband, Jim, first got to know Terhune in 1989, when their son, Dave, brought him home one day. At the time, Terhune was a new student at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago.

Terhune became like a big brother and role model to the Zeigler boys - Dave, Stuart, and Paul - and lived with the family for four years.

"We were a host family," Shirley Zeigler said. "We loved him as a son and a brother."

Terhune worshipped with the family at St. John's Lutheran Church in Wheaton and was active in the church's youth group.

One of the qualities that stood out to Zeigler was Terhune's strong Christian faith, and how he lived that out, volunteering to help out, always standing up for the underdog, and living by example.

"He had red hair, freckles, and the biggest smile," Zeigler said. "He was a gentle giant, and he was always a leader."

Terhune helped Zeigler in her job as a physical education teacher. During the early 1990s, he became a familiar face at Westfield Elementary School in Glen Ellyn.

"He used to come every spring and fall and help me with physical fitness tests," Zeigler said. "He would encourage the kids."

After graduating from Wheaton Academy, Terhune joined the Marines. The Zeiglers kept in touch, visiting him after basic training.

"I recall his drill instructor commenting that of all of his men, he could not break Eric," wrote Paul Zeigler, now a seminary student living in Ft. Wayne, Ind. "Normally, they would break the men down just to build them back up, but not Eric."

Paul Zeigler added that Terhune even volunteered for the punishments of his fellow men.

"It appears that Eric's volunteering had no ends," he said, "from volunteering to clean my plate as a picky eater 11 years younger ... to his antics during basic training, to volunteering for others on the battlefield."

Terhune did two tours of duty in Iraq before volunteering for a tour in Afghanistan.

"He was done serving." Shirley Zeigler said. "But he was single, he had no wife, no children."

Terhune continued to inspire others. Two years ago, children at Westfield Elementary collected 350 bags of school supplies to be distributed in Afghanistan, as a way of building trust with local children.

Last year, he helped to inspire an effort to provide bowling lanes for physical activity for the soldiers and introduce the sport to the villagers.

Then on June 19, Terhune was hit by ground fire in Afghanistan's Farah province. He was killed along with another man, Lance Cpl. Andrew Francis Whitacre of Bryant, Ind.

The Zeiglers knew they needed to put Terhune's name on the monument in their yard along Wiesbrook Road. But they were so heartbroken they didn't have to strength to do it.

Joe Eddy Brown, a retired teacher who also knew Terhune, came by to place his name on the stark black background.

Meanwhile, Wheaton Academy is planning to include a tribute to Terhune in the school's Veterans Day chapel service on Nov. 11. Every year the school focuses the service on graduates who have served in the military. Terhune won't be the sole focus of this year's service, but he will be a large part of it, said Dave Pacheco, communications coordinator for the school.

Zeigler said she knows how she'd like for Eric to be remembered.

"He was an officer and a gentleman," she said. "He was a Christian soldier."

Memorial: Wheaton Academy planning a tribute, too