Christopher Horns had a sparkling personality that emanated to those around him, according to his grandmother, Barbara Horns of Decorah.
"He was basically a very good people person. If you were sitting in a crowd and he came up and talked to you, you would feel so good," she said.
And unlike some his age, he enjoyed talking to seniors, she added.
Horns, a 20-year-old Colorado Springs, Colo. Army Ranger was killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported this week Horns and two other soldiers were killed when insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised bomb.
Barbara's husband, Irving, was watching the early morning farm report when his son, Larry, called just after 5 a.m. Saturday. He knew it wasn't going to be good news and hearing his son's voice confirmed his premonition.
"You see it happening to other people ... when it happens to you, it really hits home," Irving said.
Horns was following in his father's footsteps when he joined the military. After graduating from MFL High School in Monona in 1976, Larry made the Army his career, serving nearly 30 years.
Larry, his wife, Tamra, and their two children, Christopher and Tiffany, were stationed around the world during Larry's career, Barbara said, and were always close-knit. Tamra home-schooled the children until they were in eighth grade.
"They were a strong family unit," Barbara said.
In June 2010, Horns visited Barbara and Irving, who moved from the Monona area to a farm south of Decorah in the 1980s. Horns' enlistment was beginning in August, and he knew he wouldn't be able to see his grandparents again soon.
"I never thought it would be a possibility that he wouldn't be coming home," Barbara said.
She said her grandson enjoyed the outdoors, and during his visit last year, spent time at their fishing pond with his grandfather and helped her with yard work.
"He loved mowing lawn for grandma and helping us do anything," she said.
Over the years, when Larry and his family visited, Barbara said other relatives from the area would gather at the farm and she believes her grandson enjoyed being surrounded by his aunts, uncles and cousins.
For Barbara and Irving's 50th anniversary, family members filled their sprawling yard with campers and tents.
"It was a very good time," she said.
Chris Horns purchased fireworks for the special occasion.
"He just had so much fun doing this spectacular fireworks show," Barbara said.
Horns' fond memories of the farm and the number of relatives in the area played a big role in the decision to hold his full military funeral at Calmar Lutheran Church, she said. It's being planned for early next month. Horns attended church services there with his grandparents several times.
Horns' family is planning to spread his ashes in the mountains near Colorado Springs where he loved to ride his dirt bike and hike.
Barbara said her grandson was dedicated to being a good solider and lost 40 pounds preparing for basic training, a real challenge for someone who "loved to eat grandma's cookies and bread."
Horns became a Ranger in March and was an assistant machine-gunner and automatic rifleman.
Before leaving for Afghanistan, Barbara said her grandson prepared his parents for the worst.
"If he should not come home, he wanted his parents to understand what he was doing was something he believed in and was willing to sacrifice for if needed," she said.
Horns was always wise beyond his years, she recalled.
"When Larry was stationed in Germany and we made the trip to visit them, he (Horns) was four or five, and I couldn't believe he was such a mature little person."
Barbara wrote her grandson a letter every other week, and he called more than once a month.
"I knew that he would be coming home. I wrote him a week ago Monday."
When Larry served in Afghanistan, toward the start of the war, Barbara said she'd become emotional whenever she heard of servicemen being killed there.
"I'd cry for their mothers," she said tears welling in her eyes. "I never thought this would happen."