Copperas Cove, TX, US
SP4, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
1/11/2012, Fort Hood, USA
The photos are everywhere. On the walls. On end tables. In the kitchen. On the refrigerator: Kevin in basic training. Kevin in Iraq. Kevin at Walter Reed Military Hospital. Kevin at his wedding. This is the Hardin house in Eddystone, where Kevin’s mom, dad and brother live.
Kevin never lived here, but the home is something of a shrine to him. He grew up in Florida and joined the Army at 17. He became a medic and was sent to Iraq. While on patrol with his unit in 2007, an anti-tank missile came through his Humvee. It took three of his fingers and a chunk of his arm, leaving his hand dangling from the bone. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The explosion left shrapnel in his face and brain.
That he wasn’t killed, said his father, Charles, “I guess it was a miracle.”
He was flown to Germany to be operated on and then back to the U.S. to be operated on some more. In all, there were 32 surgeries to repair his arm, wrist and hands. Nothing could be done about the shrapnel in his head. His dad, a Vietnam vet, quit his job as a security guard at a gated community in Florida to become his son’s full-time caregiver at Walter Reed.
It wasn’t all tears. There were a lot laughs too. Charles, a country-boy from Georgia, lived in family housing near the hospital. He got over there early every morning to be with his son. The two of them had the run of the place.
“We drove those poor nurses crazy,” his father said with a smile.
During Kevin’s recovery, his grandfather, who lived in Eddystone, passed away. His mother, Terry, quit her job as a legal secretary in Florida and returned to the home in which she grew up. She got a job in Delaware and the rest of the family followed.
In all, Kevin spent two years at Walter Reed before being released. Because of his brain injury he was judged 100 percent disabled. But there was plenty of stuff he could do. He could drive a car, kick ass on his PlayStation 3, and he could fall in love.
He did that with a girl named Lillian, who came to Walter Reed to help take care of an injured cousin and ended up in the arms of the Hardins’ second-oldest boy. It was Kevin’s upbeat and always positive attitude that did it for Lillian. The two ran off and got married at a Texas filling station turned wedding chapel. It wasn’t their dream wedding, but it got the job done. They moved into a modest house in a modest community in military-friendly Copperas Cove, Texas.
It was Terry Hardin who arranged for her daughter-in-law’s dream wedding. She contacted a group called Christmas Can Cure and she told them Kevin’s story. The Wounded Warriors Project was brought in and a few months later, Kevin, Lillian and their families were all flown to the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite, Nev., for a proper wedding party.
Terry has never been hesitant to ask for help or a favor on behalf of her son. The war and his injuries changed him, she said. While there were times you’d barely be able to tell he’d been so severely injured, it did change his personality. He was uncomfortable in crowds and didn’t go out nearly as much as he used to.
His friend and neighbor in Texas, Staff Sgt. Raymond Smith said Kevin — though very friendly and “a very good guy” — was pretty much a “homebody.”
“He stayed in the house a lot.”
Smith said he understood that. After two tours of duty in Iraq, he said, “I’m the same way. That’s what war does to you and especially with the injuries that he suffered … And he was content with that. All he wanted to do was be around his wife and his dog. He loved that dog.”
It was early in the afternoon of Jan. 22, Smith and his wife were hanging drapes in their spare bedroom when Lillian came running out of her house across the street hysterical. Smith went running into the Hardin house and found his friend face down, unconscious on the floor. When he rolled him over, he discovered Kevin had vomited and choked on it. He tried to revive him with CPR, but he never regained consciousness. He was declared dead at the hospital. He was 25 years old. He was buried in a small veterans cemetery near Fort Hood. The family could have held out for Arlington, but that would have taken months.
Besides, said Terry, “It’s a beautiful, beautiful cemetery.”