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    Posted May 26, 2010 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Home and Away: Remembering the fallen

    Lcpl Shawn P Hefner - Hico's Hero


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     robinhefner, Lance Cpl. Shawn Patrick Hefner's mom, hopes her son is remembered for his life attitude and smile. Shawn Hefner died in Afghanistan in 2009. She was asked to write about her son for a book that a group of Marine moms in Minnesota is putting together.
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    I am Robin Hefner, Shawn's mother.  I was asked to write Shawn's story for a book that a group of Marine mom's are putting together.  Just about how it feels to be a marine mom from being drafted to home coming.  Here is Shawn's story seen throw his mother's eyes.




    Being Drafted

    The first time Shawn ever talked about being a Marine he was 5 years old. He was so into the soldier’s life that he had a survival book at his bed side. His room was painted from top to bottom in jungle camouflage, and every piece of clothing was different colored camouflage. Shawn was every bit an outdoorsman, he would sleep in a tent and eat MRE’s (from the local Army Navy store). I knew that he was going to be a Marine. On September 11, 2001 Shawn was only 14 years old, but his reaction to the terrorist attacks was, “When I am a Marine, I will go over there and kill Bin Laden! This is my country, and he cannot do this!” This was six years before Shawn joined the Marine’s and the day that changed the course of this nation and my family. Shawn graduated from Hico high school May 2006; he planned a year off so he could just “hang” before going into the service. He landed himself in a bit of trouble which could have changed his future. He worked for 4 weeks to repair the damage that he caused and wanted to prove he was not a young man that enjoyed causing trouble. This was when I realized how much being a Marine meant to him.

    So, in November of 2007 when the recruiter came to the house, I knew that Shawn had worked everything out and was continuing with his plan. He was going to be a Marine! January 2008 he left home, my baby boy had grown up; he was on his way to becoming one of the few, the proud, a Marine. I then began my journey of becoming a Marine mom.

    Surviving Boot Camp

    January 2007, Shawn is off to fulfill his dreams. Now, what do I do? Shawn’s father (Patrick) was a Marine, I was 15 when he went off to boot camp, I wrote him every day so that’s what I was going to do for Shawn.  I was very determined to make sure that Shawn knew that we were supporting him back home.  Making sure that Shawn’s name was called for every mail call may not have been the best thing to do. The DI’s did not see this as a supportive mother; they saw it as a letter every day from your “mommy”. So as soon as Shawn could write, after the first form letter that is, this is what he had to say “momma, thanks for writing so much but do you think that you could least change the name on the return, most everyone gets letters from their mother’s but they do not get 2 or 3 at a time, slow down.” This would not be the first or last time that Shawn tried to get me to slow it down.

    I was not a part Patrick’s Marine life so it was something that I had to learn about. I searched the internet, found the site for Marine parents, through this site I learned that becoming a Marine was not something that happened to all that joined, it was not the end result for all that entered. Becoming a Marine was not given, becoming a Marine was earned. The more I learned about the Marine Corps, I began to have a different outlook on Shawn’s choice. Shawn not only chose the Marines because he wanted to be like his father, but to also be a part of the best military unit to service our country.

    On line support groups are great, there will always be someone there that has been through it before you, listen to their wisdom. My support group was a group of moms whose kids were all in boot camp at the time. How I ended up with them I will never know other than it’s a God thing. By the end of February I had learned so much that I was busting at the seams with pride. I started planning my cross country trip to be there when Shawn graduated on April 11, 2008.

    Graduation day

    Seeing my son after 3 months of training was a shock. Shawn’s countenance had changed, he was sure of himself, he was proud of himself, he stood taller and his shoulders were broader. I could never put into words the pride that a mother feels when witnessing the fulfillment of your child’s dream He was now a Marine, he had completed his childhood mission and this marked the beginning of his new mission, serving as a Marine with a job to do, but first he was on leave and going home.

    Home is a place where everyone knows everyone. Hico is a small Texas town, and just outside of town there is a sign that reads “Hico, where everybody is somebody”. Shawn came home a man, he dressed different, he talked different, and he walked different. He was polite, opened doors for the ladies but the one thing had not changed was that smile. There was nothing that could take that smile off his face. Shawn was happy with life, loved what he was and what he was going to do.

    First year of service

    Shawn returned to California after his leave to start schools for his chosen career, amphibious assault. As a mother what more could one ask for. There is a war going on in the desert and there is no water in the desert so we are safe.  We are not writing one another because the phone calls are very frequent. Before long I don’t even feel like my son is so far away, I heard from him more than I did when he was living in the same house.

    Our first Christmas without Shawn home was in 2008, he was in North Carolina at Camp Lejeune. Making sure that I was top of the mother popularity group among his friends I sent them all boxes of home made goodies for Christmas. By this time there had been talk of a possible deployment to Afghanistan. I was still very sure that my son, being amphibious, was not going.


    April 2009, Shawn had been a Marine for 1 year and he was home on his first leave in just as long. Still talking about a possible deployment in a month or so, I was surprised to learn that Shawn was one of a few that were being considered for this deployment.  By the end of May we knew Shawn was being deployed to Afghanistan in just a few short weeks.

    Being a mother, that thing goes through your head is “this cannot be happening!” Have I looked into the eyes of my child for the last time? I felt like I had to tell him face to face that he had to come home from Afghanistan, then all would be alright with the world. 10 hours later I was on a plane to spend the weekend with Shawn and his friends. I met those that I had heard so much about, putting the name with the face. They were all so excited about their deployment, wanting to go and promising to take care of each other. This was a group of men, friends that had become brothers and they all loved what they were doing.

    Shawn and I and another Texas Marine went camping for the weekend. It may not have been what I wanted to do, but I was there to see my son before he went into a war that I did not totally understand. In the glow of pride, and wanting to show Shawn just how much he is loved. He was even able to get me to do something that I thought I would never do. He showed me a drawing he did of three flowers. He said “It’s your birthday gift, a tattoo.” “See it’s a flower for each one of us”.

    This was my baby boy, I had carried him, protected him, and now he was going off to a place that I did not know. How could I prepare him? How do I prepare myself? He’s my son, and I did not teach him to kill, and I did not prepare him for the sights of war. Please GOD protect his mind. Protect his smile. Keep him safe from all things that will change his heart. Please GOD let the man that was sent to Afghanistan be the man that returns.

    Father’s day 2009 Shawn was on a flight to Turkey on his way to Afghanistan. One thing I read a year or so before was that a journal was good to keep while your son was in country. In country really means out of this country. So the journal of our journey through deployment was started. I looked up where he was and where he was going and started it with these words; Shawn this journal was kept by your mother to have a record of all the stories you will tell, the people that you meet, so you will have a record of your deployment later in life.

    Each day I would write that date and enter “no word” or Shawn called – with the story of the day….

    Care packages/letters

    When we received Shawn’s address from the Family Readiness Officer, I sent out an email to all friends and family “let’s make sure that when there is mail call that everyone knows who Shawn is, because he is getting so much Hefner love via US postal service”.

    I sent a care package every Thursday morning and started the next box the same day. The Hico news paper came out on Wednesday night and it was always the last thing placed in the box then taped and addressed for the trip to Afghanistan. Shawn has 10 aunts and uncles and adult cousins so he was sent at least 3 boxes a week from home.  By the time he started getting the boxes after their 4 week journey across the world he was not wanting for anything and was everyone’s friend.  He would call home close to every week, always telling us stories of things that he had done or seen. I was keeping busy writing these stories down in the Shawn journal as I came to call it. I had also been telling him that he is calling from the future; he was 11 hours and 34 minutes ahead of us. So there are many times that he called from tomorrow.

    Hearing from Shawn so often did not take away the fear of the” what if’s” but it did make it seem that he was just in a training exercises and not in a war zone.

    Then only 5 weeks and 1 day into his deployment, we received the 1-800 call, Shawn had been injured. He was in his M-RAP which was hit with an IED. Not knowing anything, panic runs through your head and heart, there is no crying, there are just deep sobs from his mothers heart. It only took about an hour before Shawn called to tell us he was ok. His M-RAP had run over an IED, he was so happy, everyone was alive he had a slight concussion but, being as hard headed as he was, he was fine. Then with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, he began to tell us all about being “blown-up”.  I cried for 3 days. Every time I started to write about it in the journal, I cried even more. Thank you Lord for protecting my son, please give me the strength to make it until his feet are back on American soil.

    Back to care packages, by this time I had sent 5 boxes filled with dried fruit, nuts, jerky, underwear, socks and baby wipes. It was about time I did something different. Now I was on to themed boxes. How about a beach party in a box?, Inflatable beach ball, beach towel, little drink umbrellas, fruit punch with a note that said “here is all you need for a beach party but the sand and you should have plenty of that”. The next week was an ice cream party; I found a place online that sold freeze- dried ice cream; this one was a big hit with the guys. I was once again the cool mom, “the moms” as I was called. By this time Shawn told me who was not receiving mail from anyone, I put out the email to the family and these Marines started receiving mail via the Hefner family. Shawn too tried to tell me to slow it down with the care packages, he had so much stocked up that he was running out of room. I just told him” good luck with that, if you have so much you are not sharing like you should. Remember when GOD gives you plenty, you give plenty.”

    Shawn too enjoyed surprising his fellow Marines from time to time. I love the story about 8 Marines being in the back of the M-RAP and Shawn pulls out a baggy of sliced summer sausage, with cheese and crackers and serves them as he says; “ hors d’oeuvres anyone?”.

    After 5 ½ months the last box was being sent. Shawn was due back in the states in 6 weeks.  With the mail time being 4 weeks on average the last box was mailed Oct 1, 2009. Shawn called on Nov 6. He was so happy that he had been promoted to Lance Corporal. 11-2-09 he also received the last box which was the welcome home box with a phone card to call as soon as his feet hit the USA.  There was Halloween candy with instructions to take off the camouflage and put on people clothes for his post deployment leave. Shawn would be back in the states Thanksgiving Day. He talked about the family Christmas and welcome home party we were planning, and wanting a home cooked meal. This phone call was short, he was tired and said that he was going back out in a few days, and talked about it being his last mission, then home.

    I started working on a scrapbook to give to Shawn when he came home for Christmas. A collection of pictures taken at his graduation from boot camp through his deployment with all the pictures he sent from Afghanistan.  I had ordered military scrapbooking supplies off the internet, so when there was a knock at the door on 11-13-09 at 12:30pm, I thought that the UPS delivery was here. Thinking I was going to see a familiar face, I was surprised when I saw 3 uniformed soldiers, then I knew that I had looked into my sons eyes for the last time when he took me camping.

    Home Coming

    Shawn’s home coming was not what I thought it would be he was home 2 weeks before the rest of his unit. On November 13, 2009 he was out on his last mission on the final hours of that day, while walking around his M-RAP he stepped on an IED and was killed instantly. My son had just been promoted to an American Hero. He died so that others may live in peace with the liberties to do what they want with their lives, as he had done with his.

    We, his family, mother, father, sister, brother all witnessed his return to American soil. Shawn was no longer just my son; he was a son of the nation. In this small Texas town of Hico “Where everybody is somebody”, and somebody was a heroe, they welcomed him home with open arms.

    Our Journey continues: we receive cards, letters, plants, gifts from all over the world. Not only did Shawn touch the lives of those here at home, but people that never even knew him. This is the thank you note that we sent to over 500 families, because they reached out to us, I felt that they should know about us and how we were doing as a family.

    Dear Family and Friends,

    We cannot even begin to say thank you enough for all the support that everyone has given to us in this very difficult time.  We have received so many cards, gifts and plants that we thought it would be easy to say THANK YOU by letting everyone know what we have done and what we plan to do in memory of Shawn.

    First, we would like everyone to know how touched we were with the support of the community and surrounding communities when Shawn came home.  The outpouring was so great that we were speechless.   From the time of notification of Shawn’s death to Shawn’s funeral we were and are still held up by the prayers of others.  Shawn would have never believed he touched so many lives.

    On 11-26-09, Thanksgiving Day, Shawn’s unit was due back in North Carolina at Camp Lejeune from Afghanistan.  We felt compelled to be there to witness their return.  As these Marines came off the bus to meet their families, they had tears of joy and sorrow.  They did not know that we were going to be there, and as one by one they came to us with great sadness they wanted to thank us for being there.  We were there to thank them, for standing in the gap between terrorism and freedom, and for being Shawn’s brothers and family during his time in Afghanistan.   As each one told a story of Shawn’s selflessness we started to understand that Shawn was a man of honor, strength and loyalty.  He was their “brother in arms“, and lived by the motto -“Death before Dishonor”.  He was no longer that teenager that got himself in and out of trouble.  He had become a man, a Marine and was as proud of himself, as we were.

    Patrick and I with Brandon traveled up the East coast to places of great history for this nation of ours.  We were in search of the bigger meaning to our son’s death.  We wanted to see the memorials in Washington dedicated to the men that died before him in the name of freedom.  Our son has been called an “American Hero”, we needed to find the meaning of “Hero”.  Standing in front of the national memorials for men and women who died before Shawn, who heard the call of freedom, stood their ground, gave their lives was history that we all knew.  How is it that in 2009, history becomes part of today? How did our son become part of history?  These were questions that we were still asking so we continued on our journey.  On what would have been Shawn’s 23rd birthday 12-4 we were standing in front of “ground zero” as it is called.  This place where history changed for our country and our family. This was the reason that Shawn died, this is the place where a chain of events put our son’s name into American history.  Growing up in a land where freedom is given, it’s hard for young people to understand why others do not have freedom at all.  Shawn understood that this was his country and that he would fight for its freedom like his grandfathers and uncles had.  He was proud to serve in this nation’s armed forces.  He was proud that he proved himself to be one of the few, the proud, a Marine.

    On 12-9 we were back in North Carolina at Camp Lejeune, to attend a memorial service for Shawn.  While the pain of losing our son is still just as raw, we were humbled by the tears these marines shed for Shawn.  They have taken Shawn’s family and called it their own.  They are a part of us, as we are a part of them. Just as all of you have become a part of our family, as we grieve together the loss of our son, your friend, brother, countryman.

    Please remember Shawn as a happy, smiling Marine, dressed in his uniform of choice becoming a part of history for this great nation, founded under GOD.

    With deep appreciation for honoring Shawn as you have, again thank you.

    Patrick and Robin Hefner





    Promotion to Gold Star Mom

    Becoming a mom of a Marine is a place of great pride and sadness. The heart is filled with pride as you witness their steps into adulthood. Not wearing the cap and gown with a diploma in hand, but a military uniform and a gun in hand. Knowing that the choice they made was theirs alone, living with freedoms we have because others had the same choice. History is filled with stories of honor from our military; they are also full of names of the dead. Many mothers before me have felt this pain. When the child that you carried, held as they took their first breath of life, kissed the boo-boo’s away, nurtured through all the milestones of life, takes that last step into history. The greatest gift is given to you as their mother; you raised a strong, selfless person that put all others before themselves. Being promoted to Gold Star Mom is the last gift you will receive; it is a testament of your love, honor, and strength that was handed down to your Marine.

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