Friday, November 13, 2009

Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn P. Hefner

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn P. Hefner, 22, of Hico, Texas

LCpl Hefner was assigned to 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Nov. 13, 2009 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Dallas Morning News – Shawn Patrick Hefner was promoted to be a Marine lance corporal on Nov. 1 and scheduled to return to his home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., sometime next week.

After a state-side debriefing about his duty in Afghanistan, he planned to return home to Central Texas on Dec. 10, less than a week after celebrating his 23rd birthday. He was to be on leave until early January.

But Lance Cpl. Hefner was killed by an improvised bomb last Friday while supporting combat operations in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

His body was returned home Thursday to Hico, Texas, where services will be at 2 p.m. today at First Baptist Church. He will be buried in Hico Cemetery.

Cpl. Hefner was fun-loving and fearless, said his father, Patrick Hefner of Hico.

"He was outdoors," said his father, a former Marine. "He loved to fish and camp. If it could be done outdoors, that's where he wanted to be."

Cpl. Hefner was born Dec. 4, 1986, in Kansas City, Mo., and moved with his family to Hico in 1991. He was a 2006 graduate of Hico High School.

He joined the Marines in January 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan in June . Almost immediately, he demonstrated his toughness, when he received a concussion after his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle was rocked by an explosion.

His mother, Robin Hefner of Hico, had instructed her son to document his tour of duty with photographs. Cpl. Hefner faithfully carried out his mother's request – even after that attack.

"They were carting him off in helicopters, and he was lying on his back taking pictures of his buddies up in front of him," his father said.

Cpl. Hefner was assigned to the 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune.

In addition to his mother and father, Cpl. Hefner is survived by a brother, Brandon Hefner of Mesquite; a sister, Jessica Megan Hefner of Hico; a grandfather, Raymond Hefner of Hico; and a grandmother, Lynn Schroff of Mesquite.

HICO — Of the thousands of young men and women who have died in the mountains of Afghanistan and on the streets of Iraq, none had a hometown named Hico.

But a week ago Friday, Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn Patrick Hefner, a Hico Tiger, Class of ’06, died in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb detonated in the Helmand province.

And as much as life doesn’t stop when someone dies, it came pretty close this week in Hico, a town on the upper end of the Hill Country in Hamilton County.

"I can’t remember anything that has gripped this town like this in years," said Bill Travis, who owns the Texas Trails restaurant. "The war has come home to Hico."

On a gray Friday afternoon, hundreds of people filled the First Baptist Church, then proceeded down Texas 6 to the cemetery to pay their last respects.

Hefner was 22, a Marine for less than two years.

"This entire community is hurting," said Mayor Lavern Tooley, who doubles as the school nurse and knew Hefner well.

Hefner’s father, Patrick, himself a former Marine, stood outside the church after the service.

He said the townsfolk had propped up him and his wife, Robin, for much of the last week as they made arrangements and flew to Dover Air Force Base, Del., to receive their son’s body.

"It’s a small town," he said. "We’re all family."

Only about 1,300 people live in Hico, the size of a small high school in Tarrant County.

It’s not a cliche to say that everyone knows everyone else, where they live, who their grandma is, when they buy a new pickup.

And it’s not hard to find people who have a story to tell about Hefner, a young man described by his family as fearless, outdoorsy and fun-loving.

There was the story about when he got suspended from school a few years ago because he had stripped off his clothes and gone "naked cliff diving" on a school field trip.

Or the one about how he tried to break a mustang, was thrown off and lay quietly on the couch for several hours, until he finally told his parents he was pretty sure he had a broken arm.

"The Marine Corps suited his lifestyle," said Drexel Ragland, who led the funeral service at the First Baptist Church.

Hico school Superintendent Rod Townsend could appreciate those stories. He knew Hefner well. His office is in the high school itself.

Townsend called Hefner a "rambunctious kid" who wasn’t always interested in schoolwork.

"Even when he was in trouble, though, he was very respectful," Townsend said. "He never lied to get out of any consequences. He was a good-hearted kid."

He was more than that to Cpl. William Pullen, who served with Hefner in the 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion in Afghanistan.

Pullen spoke at the funeral.

Their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in July, and Pullen was the only one still in the vehicle, trapped as he faded in and out of consciousness.

"Shawn went back to the truck," Pullen said, his voice breaking. "He came and got me and carried me 50 feet. He stayed by my side. He was a good man. He was a good Marine."

Several days ago, Townsend remembered a story. Sometime in mid-2008, he was eating at a restaurant when a young man walked up to him. It was Hefner.

"He shook my hand and talked to me," he said. "Shawn and I were never great friends because we were usually on opposite sides of an issue. But the Shawn I talked to that day was not the Shawn I remembered.

"He had grown up into a young man," Townsend said. "I told myself, 'This kid is going to be OK.’ He had found his place."

So when Townsend heard about Hefner’s death, the one thing he thought he could do, for him and the schoolchildren he oversees, was bus them downtown Thursday afternoon to watch Hefner come home.

Every child in the Hico schools from third grade to the senior class lined Texas 6 for Hefner’s motorcade.

Businesses closed down. Flags were lowered to half-staff. People switched out the marquees around town to say "God Bless Shawn Hefner."

"I wanted the children to see how important he was for this nation," Townsend said. "I wanted them to have a lump in their throat, just like I did. Some things you can’t teach without seeing it. And you know what? You could have heard a pin drop in this town when those police lights came over that hill."

He came and got me and carried me 50 feet. He stayed by my side. He was a good man. He was a good Marine."

Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn P. Hefner was killed in action on 11/13/09.

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