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Father prepares for wounded son’s return (w/audio)

PARRISH

Sonny Gagne was on a mission.

The 76-year-old widower needed to find a shop to make a banner.

Not just any banner, mind you.

“I don’t have much money, but I want it to be right,” Gagne said.

It will be draped over his driveway in two weeks to say in big letters:

“WELCOME HOME, MARK”

Even though “home” is Covington, Ga., Mark Gagne is looking forward to the reunion.

“Definitely,” said the 51-year-old sergeant with Georgia National Guard’s 40th Brigade. “Dad’s been on pins and needles.”

Having a son in harm’s way in Afghanistan is why.

Mark Gagne was injured by an IED bomb explosion in Kabul last August, returned stateside in March and is being treated for a traumatic brain injury at Fort Stewart, Ga.

“He had four guys with him (in a Humvee) and they survived. Amazing,” said Gagne’s father. “I’ve been praying a lot.”

So have others.

Like the Wednesday prayer group at New Hope Baptist Church, where Mark Gagne’s picture graces a wall of photos with servicemen and women.

“I think the world of Sonny and his love for his kids, so when Mark was injured our hearts went out to them,” said Pastor Kevin Thompson. “It’s hard for some folks to understand what they’re going through at times like that, so you encourage and you pray. We believe in the power of prayer.

“We’re just glad Sonny’s son is OK.”

“He’s my baby. A good kid,” Sonny Gagne said of the youngest of three sons. “I’m just trying to keep the family together.”

Especially since losing his wife 2 1/2 years ago.

Sonny and Evelyn Gagne were married 54 years.

“It’s hard to get over that,” he said.

Gagne didn’t want to contemplate what it would be like losing his son, a divorced father of five.

“Not good,” he said. “Not good.”

He almost did.

A cable TV subcontractor by trade, Mark Gagne’s job in Afghanistan is with the Army’s police mentor team, training Afghan police.

He’d wrapped up work for the day when it happened.

“We were heading back to base,” Gagne said. “At the last second out of the corner of my eye I spotted this guy in the distance and saw him detonate the device. I saw him too late.”

The IED exploded under the passengers’ side lifting the armored Humvee off the ground, injuring the gunner and knocking everyone unconscious.

“We all blacked out for awhile, came to and got transported to the base hospital where they treated me the best they could,” he said. “We were shaken up, but able to come back and continue the mission. It’s very unstable, but we try to restore some peace.”

Six months later Gagne returned stateside for further treatment, and is on medical hold indefinitely.

“You get major headaches, back pain and numbness,” he said. “It’s treatable, but it just takes time.”

Time Sonny Gagne wants to spend with his son when he arrives May 14.

“It’s coming fast,” the father said. “I’ve got to hurry up and get that banner.”

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee Count. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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