David and Camryn Trent, 11 and 6

Army Sgt. 1st Class Nelson D. Trent, 37

Died Dec. 13, 2012

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On the spring day Sgt. 1st Class Nelson D. Trent would have turned 39, his widow woke up, thought about her children and decided, “We should do something to celebrate.”

With the helium machine she normally uses for birthday parties, April Trent blew up balloons at her home 20 minutes from Myrtle Beach, S.C. She got two small pieces of cardboard — one for her 11-year-old son David, the other for her 6-year-old daughter Camryn. On one side she wrote, “Happy birthday Daddy.” On the other: “SFC Nelson Trent. KIA Kandahar Afghanistan.”

David wandered by and asked, “What are we doing?”

He was a skinny, freckled 9-year-old when his dad was killed by an enemy bomb shortly before Christmas in 2012. David still missed their hunting trips and afternoons fishing. He still talked about the time they killed a rattlesnake together with a big rock.

At first, April told him she was preparing a surprise, but when Camryn came into the room and spotted the balloons, it was time to spill the details. “We’re gonna celebrate Daddy’s birthday,” she told them.

David put up his fists and declared, “I want revenge.”

April knew she could have been the one to die in Afghanistan. She was there, too, serving a few hundred miles away. They were an Army couple — he from Texas, she from South Carolina — who met in training and fell in love early one morning during formation. She flew back to the United States with his body. Her mother, taking care of the kids, had delivered the devastating news. Camryn climbed into her arms, crying. David put up his fists and declared, “I want revenge.”

The days had been getting easier, though not by much. Camryn, now in first grade, sometime puts on one of Daddy’s old shirts or hugs her teddy bear with his picture as its face. “Daddy Bear,” she calls it.

David, boisterous and bubbly before his father’s death, has grown quieter, more prone to anger. With his door closed, the fifth-grader plays a lot of video games, though April has hidden his dad’s shooting games. Minecraft has become an obsession.

The children have new lives. They moved from Austin, Tex., to a five-bedroom house in Loris, S.C., where their father’s Army boots, hat and camouflage are packed in trunks in the attic.

April, 33, is still in the National Guard. She has a boyfriend and a baby on the way — due April 8, 2015, three days after what would have been Trent’s 40th birthday.

David is now old enough to realize that all wasn’t well between his parents. “We were going to get a divorce when we got back,” April said. “Our marriage was rough.”

But April 5, 2014, was Trent’s birthday. “I can’t let the kids forget him,” April said. “I can’t not honor him and keep his memory live. He gave his life not only for his country, but his family.”

Left: Camryn Trent with her dad, Nelson D. Trent. Right: David Trent and his dad pose with a helicopter. (Family photos)

David and Camryn were full of cheers for the birthday plan, calling it “so awesome.”

That afternoon, they headed out to the front yard. High up on a shiny pole, a U.S. flag was blowing in the wind. David, wearing a tie-dye shirt, and Camryn, in a colorful shirt that said “Love,” held orange balloons with the cards attached. SFC Nelson Trent. KIA Kandahar Afghanistan.

“Happy birthday to you,” they sang. “Happy birthday to Daddy, happy birthday to you.”

“Ok, let ’em go,” their mother said.

Up, up, up into the cloudy blue sky, the balloons sailed away.

David watched silently.

Camryn jumped up and down, shouting, “Bye bye baloonies!”

Faces of the Fallen

Find out more about the service members who have died in Afghanistan since 2001.