Pulling up to the rocky driveway that leads to the Saenz family home in Pleasanton, there are faded reminders of what happened a year ago.
The fence is still lined with sun-baked wreaths and banners dedicated to a fallen Marine. But while the gifts have faded in the Texas heat, the memories have not.
"It feels like it just happened." Christy Saenz admits.
ONE YEAR AGO
On Aug. 9, 2010, the Saenz family got the news that would shatter their world. Sgt. Jose Luis Saenz III, a chief operating mechanic in the U.S. Marine Corps, had been killed in Afghanistan.
In an instant, his wife, Christy, lost her soulmate and husband of seven years.
Leonor lost her only son. Father Jose Saenz II lost his namesake.
A young boy, Jose Luis IV, lost his father and best friend.
"You have all kinds of emotions because it's not an expected death," Leonor said about her son. "It's not like it was a car accident. He was actually killed by somebody."
THE FIRST HOURS
Those first hours of shock where interrupted by a tremendous outpouring of community support, a frenzy of media coverage and the stress of suddenly planning a funeral.
But when the quiet finally returned, there was plenty of time to comprehend the huge hole in the heart of the Saenz family.
"Just not having him here is a horrible, horrible feeling," Leonor cried. "Not to hold him, not to kiss him anymore, not to see that smile."
HOW TO TELL THE BOY
In the stringent world of military service, rules and regulation are a way of life. But when a
hero makes the ultimate sacrifice, there is no playbook for those left behind.
There are no rules on how to grieve, how to heal or how to tell a boy his dad is not coming back.
"I couldn't tell him myself" Christy said about her six-year-old boy.
It was only as they traveled to Dover Air Force Base to bring back Sgt. Saenz's body that her son, Jose Luis, received the news from his granddad.
"While we were waiting for the casket to come out of the plane, he was asking his mother, 'Where's Daddy? When is he going to come out?'" Jose recalled.
"When the casket came out with the Marines around it, we told him, 'There's your Dad. He's in the casket.'"
"No, Dad's not there. He's going to come out," Jose recalled the boy saying. "He had a hard time dealing with that, to realize that at that point his Daddy wasn't going to come back."
LETTERS FROM WAR
As the days turned to months, each member of the family turned to their own cherished memories of Sgt. Saenz for solace and comfort.
For Christy, it came in the form of a few handwritten letters revealing the true details of war.
"His descriptions were so real, like you were almost there," she said.
But even in those letters, Christy didn't get a full picture of the danger her husband was in at the time. The real story surfaced weeks after his death when his personal belongings finally were returned to Texas.
Among the items was a diary in which he detailed for her everything that has been happening in Afghanistan.
"In his last letter he actually wrote, 'If you're reading this, it means I didn't make it home,'" Christy said sadly. "He had that feeling, I guess."
WOULDN’T HURT AN ANIMAL
Amid a treasure trove of medals and commendations, Jose Saenz II recalled his son was not only a decorated war hero, but also -- deep down -- he was a boy with a big heart.
"He always surprised me, because he never was a person that would hurt anything."
Jose remembered asking his son to go hunting with him. "He joked, 'No dad, how can you kill Bambi?'"
REMEMBERING HIM NOW
The Saenz family continues to honor the memory of Sgt. Jose Luis Saenz III by paying faithful visits to his gravesite.
Jose visits his son every morning before work. Leonor visits once or twice a week and says her son's presence in that place is very real.
"He gives me a nose bleed every time I go to the cemetery and cry too long," she said.
And as the months have finally turned to a year, Leonor stands in the family home surrounded by loved ones, wrapped in warm memories, remembering her son:
"He loved his men. He loved his life. He lived a good life."
A true hometown hero.