Eric Horner was sitting in his Nashville living room and his wife, Debby, was in the kitchen preparing breakfast on Sept. 11, 2001, when news came that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center's North Tower.
Debby stopped what she was doing, her attention on the television screen and she watched in horror as the emotions from an old trauma suddenly reawakened inside of her.
It had been 18 years since Debby had lost her first husband, Sgt. Richard Blankenship, in the Beirut bombing that claimed the lives of 241 American soldiers. But she was brought back to the moments of that day -- back to her shopping trip in Williamsburg, Va.; to her cousin pulling Debby's mother aside; to murmurs of a bombing; to the sound of car doors slamming; to the sight of an officer and chaplain walking toward her door; to the news that her husband was missing.
Six days later, it was confirmed he was dead.
As Eric watched his wife relive her darkest moments that day in 2001, a phrase kept running through his head: "We will stand."
It came as a song lyric. But even as a country singer, guitarist for Lee Greenwood and songwriter, Eric didn't feel this song was his to write.
Who was he, anyway? He'd never served in the military, neither had his father. It almost seemed cliche -- just another country singer writing about the tragic events of that day.
"I went to bed, and the Lord would not take that for an answer," Eric said.
At midnight he went down to the recording studio on the first floor of their home and had the lyrics on paper by 3 a.m. He recorded the demo for "We Will Stand" before his wife woke up, and after hearing the song written just for her, Debby said, "The world needs to hear this."
Eric began feeling a sense of patriotism he'd never known and a connection to his faith.
"It was just a song of resolve to remind people how blessed we are to live here," he said.
Eric didn't know it yet, but his ministry had began.
'IT ALL CHANGED'
Eric, who will hold a concert at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Resurrection Church on Hilton Head Island, toured with Greenwood as a guitarist from 1988 until 1993, when he decided to venture out on his own.
"We got close to a record deal a couple times, but we were in an endless cycle, beating our brains out for nothing," Eric said.
He continued working in the industry and later became a studio guitar player. In 1998, Greenwood called Eric to get a band together for a few tours while Greenwood primarily focused on a theater he had opened in Sevierville, Tenn.
But then came Sept. 11, 2001.
"It all changed," Eric said.
Arguably the most famous contemporary American patriotic song, Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," which he wrote in 1983, saw a resurgence. The song was back on the Billboard charts, and Greenwood became one of the highest-in-demand performers in the year following the terrorist attacks.
So on the road they went, performing more than 250 shows over the next year.
Eric offered "We Will Stand," to Greenwood, thinking he might like to record something to go along with "God Bless the USA." But Greenwood told Eric, "No, you sing it in my show."
Many of their shows that year ended with Eric's song, followed by "God Bless the USA."
"I'll never forget the first night he let me sing it," Eric said.
It was in Houston, two weeks after the attacks, and as Eric sang the opening line: "We live in the land of the free."
"The whole place just went crazy," he said.
Debby wasn't at that show, but Greenwood's tour manager called her and held the phone out for her to hear.
She began to cry.
"A lot of people think I include the patriotic side of my ministry because of my relationship with Lee Greenwood, but it's because of (Debby)," Eric said. "I never wore the uniform, and she's the one who taught me what sacrifice was really all about."
A GROWING MINISTRY
The success of "We Will Stand," and the patriotic theme of Eric's songwriting, opened doors for the couple. In 2003, Eric and Debby decided to go into ministry full time. In 2005, Eric began Victory Concerts, motivational and patriotic shows performed as encouragement and support for U.S. troops.
He wrote "God Bless My Soldier," a story-song about the daily prayer of a girl whose father is deployed. Via YouTube, the song found its way to a commander in Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., who told her chaplain she loved the song and wanted Eric to perform it for their soldiers in training. From there, word spread, and Eric began touring military bases, performing what he calls "strictly patriotic" shows for a command audience, meaning everything has to be secular.
"We abide by those rules, but it's still a ministry of encouragement, no matter how you look at it," Eric said. "The message in the songs is, 'Yes, you can do this,' and it's a message of ... gratitude for agreeing to give up your life for me if you have to."
Debby still struggles sometimes. She tears up at Eric's show. It's hard for her to listen to "Taps."
"It's been 30 years this year, and there are days when it feels like that was a totally different lifetime," she said. "And there are times when it feels like it just happened."
But she reaches out to others who feel her kind of pain, even when it's difficult to do so.
In March 2003, while Eric was on tour with Greenwood, one of the first casualties in Iraq was a 21-year-old Marine from Nashville. He attended a church near the Horners' home, and Debby thinks she might have known somebody from that church who was a part of his family. The details are fuzzy, memories unclear, until she returns to the fallen soldier.
"His name was Patrick," Debby said.
"I don't know these people, but I knew that he was a Marine and I had suffered that loss."
THE EARLY DAYS
The religious foundation of Eric's musical journey goes back to his childhood. In the sixth grade, Eric received his first real guitar for Christmas -- a Yamaha FG160.
Before that, his first "guitar" had been a tennis racket.
Eric turned to Chapman Music in his hometown of Paducah, Ky., for lessons at a music store owned by Herb Chapman, father of Steven Curtis Chapman. Five Grammy awards and 56 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards later, Steven Curtis Chapman is today recognized as one of the most prolific contemporary Christian music artists.
As a freshman in high school, Steven was Eric's first guitar teacher, Eric his first student.
Steven helped Eric land his first audition as the bass player for the quartet Girls Next Door, an opening act for Greenwood, which led Eric to becoming Greenwood's guitarist in 1988.
"That began my 17-year journey in country music," Eric said.
FOCUS ON FAMILY
Eric's message has evolved from a God and country message -- from America's need to return to God -- to a focus on a family's need for God. He chose Joshua 4:15 as a basis for his message. That Scripture reads, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Eric started focusing on family in his ministry last year, realizing that while the nation needs to return to God, there is a lot more to it.
"From a spiritual standpoint, the enemy would love nothing more than to destroy America, and how's he going to do it but by destroying the backbone (of the nation), which is our families," he said.