Cape family remembers fallen son this Memorial Day
Americans around the county, even the world, will spend Monday attending ceremonies or spending time with loved ones.
One Cape Coral family, however, will mark the day as the 13th anniversary of their son’s death.
U.S. Army Capt. Daniel W. Eggers, 28, died May 29, 2004, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the vehicle he was riding in hit an IED. Three other personnel with him – Spc. Joseph A. Jeffries, Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Morgensen and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brian J. Ouellette – were also killed.
Leading up to Memorial Day – the day set aside for honoring the men and women who have died while serving in the military – his family witnessed one more step taken toward justice for their son.
The Department of Defense and the Office of the Chief Prosecutor for the Military Commissions invited the Eggers to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba, to observe the pre-trial hearings for Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi – a captured Taliban commander charged in connection to their son’s death.
“Thirteen years ago, my son died,” Bill Eggers said. “Here we are 13 years later.”
He explained that Hadi was captured in 2006 and the family learned of it a few years later.
“All these years and they’re after some Taliban commander involved in my son’s death,” Eggers said.
According to Chief Prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, Hadi is charged with committing “serious violations of the law of war by conspiring with and leading others, as a senior member of al Qaeda,” in attacks and other offenses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere from 2001 to 2006.
“These attacks and other offenses allegedly caused death and injury to U.S. and coalition service members and civilians and caused damage to or destruction of property,” the military documents said.
“Daniel was an American hero,” Martins continued in the filed documents. “He was a Green Beret, fluent in Arabic and had already served one tour in Afghanistan but volunteered to go back.”
Eggers noted that there were about 60 to 70 counts listed on Hadi’s charging sheet.
“My son’s number is 53,” he said, adding that it includes the other three killed.
The DoD had extended the invitation before, but this was the first time the family had considered it.
“My wife was a little jittery, so I told her I’d test the waters,” Eggers said.
“There’s something inside of me that just wanted to go – and to actually see this defendant in the flesh,” he added. “I guess it was a father’s thing.”
Eggers noted that he is the first family member to attend Hadi’s hearings.
“That means a lot of people don’t want to go,” he said.
In April, the U.S. government set up Eggers with a nine-day trip to the naval base, with all costs covered. He flew into Washington, D.C., then from Andrews Air Force Base to Guantanamo.
With one week of pre-trial hearings planned, Eggers described what it was like seeing the military courtroom for the first time. Seated behind plate glass, the boxed gallery in which he sat was located toward the back for the witnesses to observe all. Several TVs played the courtroom audio on a short delay.
“I was definitely the only family member,” he said, noting the others were military or lawyers.
When Eggers first saw Haid – the man accused of killing his son – it was not what he expected.
“In relation to my size, he was so small,” he said. “It was almost like a joke.”
Eggers described Hadi as having a long graying beard and wearing traditional grab.
He spoke English and his demeanor was also unexpected.
“I have to say, he was very well-behaved in court,” Eggers said.
A Vietnam veteran who had served as a police officer, he explained that he felt relatively prepared to follow the hearings. Still, he found a Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manuel online and read it in advance.
“I was on the edge of my seat watching this stuff,” Eggers said. “It was quite an experience.”
He got to meet with the prosecution team and ask questions, then listen as the defense put forward motions. Unfortunately, what was expected to last for a week actually wrapped up in two days.
Eggers noted that the case against Hadi is a non-capital one.
“I believe the government is looking for a life sentence,” he said.
Asked about his thoughts on that, Eggers explained that it is the system and he must respect it.
“I’m just looking for justice to be served,” he said.
With the hearings ending early, the military stepped up to fill in activities for Eggers. On one day, Martins surprised him by organizing a special Mass at the base in honor of his son, Eggers said.
“It was an unexpected zinger,” he said. “It was a real bonus for my trip.”
His military escort showed him around the 49 square miles that make up Guantanamo.
“We went to about three or four beaches,” Eggers said.
“It was almost surreal the way the military treated me,” he added. “They treated me like royalty.”
In fact, Martins pointed out in the courtroom the family’s service to the country:
“The Eggers have a rich history of service to the nation – going back to Daniel’s great-grandfather, who served with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and his father, Bill Eggers, who was a helicopter door gunner during the Vietnam War,” he said, reading from the military documents.
Asked about if he would go back, Eggers replied with a resounding yes.
“I would definitely go back if and when there is a trial,” he said.
No trial date has been set yet as the schedule for Hadi’s case extends into 2018.
“I would like to bring my wife,” Eggers said.
Asked about finding closure in his son’s death, he said he found it before this experience.
“But, I got some good peace-of-mind attending those hearings,” Eggers said.
He recalled a telephone call from his son that occurred two weeks before his death. Eggers explained that his son got ahold of his wife and told her before hanging up that he would always be with her.
“He’s always with us,” he said. “Fourteen years later, he’s not forgotten.”
Eggers was one of seven children born to William “Bill” and Margaret Eggers.
Daniel W. Eggers was a graduate of Cape Coral High School.
He was commissioned in May 1997 after graduating from the military college.
Eggers completed his Special Forces training in 2002. In May 2003, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). He worked with the Combined Joint Task Force.
On the day of his death, his unit had narrowed in on and confronted a targeted group of suspects, according to Eggers. As the unit was rounding up the targeted individuals, it received information that some of the suspects had escaped. His son’s unit was in pursuit of the others when it hit the IED.
In 2015, the Eggers Army ROTC Classroom was dedicated at The Citadel, in South Carolina.
Eggers explained that two plaques were dedicated during the ceremony – a new one, and one from March 2005 that commemorated the renaming of the Kabul Compound in Afghanistan to Camp Eggers in honor of his son, a former Green Beret. With the camp’s closing, the plaque required a new home.
His son was survived by his wife, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rebecca Lynn Eggers, and his two sons, John Joseph Eggers and William Howard Eggers. His widow remarried in 2013 and had one daughter.