Mannix About Manatee: One soldier's heartening homecoming

October 20, 2013 

The soldier's homecoming was unannounced.

No loved ones at the airport with homemade signs and balloons.

No TV camera crews.

Nothing like that.

Rather, Staff Sgt. Kevin Haddon's welcome home after a long flight from Afghanistan and a long taxi ride from McGuire Air Force Base came in the emotional embrace of his grieving grandmother in South Jersey.

Kevin is my nephew and served with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Marjorie Haddon is his paternal grandmother, who just lost her husband. Robert Haddon was 86.

A wonderful couple, they were married 63 years.

Since my dad had passed when Kevin's mother, my sister Maureen, was a teenager, Bob Haddon was the only grandfather he knew.

A good man.

His health had deteriorated lately, and being concerned for their oldest grandson in Afghanistan probably didn't help.

It's understandable.

We all were.

Kevin was on a six-month combat tour, and we'd get periodic updates through Maureen, who probably aged 10 years from the waiting and worrying.

As if there wasn't enough danger on special forces missions into Taliban territory, it lurked on supposedly friendly turf, too.

Remember those three U.S. soldiers killed by an Afghan soldier last month?

That happened on Kevin's base.

They were his buddies.

Violent death was no stranger to my nephew.

Kevin Haddon, warrior.

This is the same young man who would hide shyly behind my sister as a little boy when I'd fly out to visit them in Oregon.

Then every summer we'd rendezvous at their grandparents' house and head out to a Phillies game at old Veterans Stadium.

We'd also play an Uncles vs. Nephews football game on the beach at Surf City, N.J., until we got tired of them beating us.

Years later as a member of the Army's Black Daggers special forces free fall team, Kevin would email me photos of himself and Oklahoma State cheerleaders after the Daggers had jumped into the stadium with the game ball.

They did it at Notre Dame and Yankee Stadium, too.

A couple of years ago, Sherri and I and our niece, Lauren Pierce, drove across the state to see the Black Daggers perform in Stuart.

Watching Kevin lift off in that big Black Hawk helicopter filled me with pride, and watching him

dive from thousands of feet with our flag choked me up.

I knew it was a matter of time before Kevin would be putting his training to use in Afghanistan.

He was in my daily prayers.

So was his ailing grandfather.

When Bob Haddon passed on Oct. 10, Kevin's tour had perhaps a week to go.

But my sister called Red Cross, which contacted the Army, and Kevin was on an Air Force transport plane a day later.

Though the circumstances were sad, he was coming home.

The way Kevin described it was poignant and powerful.

Potent, too.

"I don't know who smelled worse -- me or the cabbie," he kidded.

After paying the taxi driver, Kevin grabbed his duffel bag and took the familiar walkway to the front door, something he'd done every year since he was a boy.

Only grandpa wouldn't be there.

But grandma was, and she probably thought she was dreaming when she saw Kevin in his uniform, standing in the doorway.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" Marjorie Haddon cried as they fell into a long, loving hug.

A beautiful homecoming, indeed.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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