Slightly more than a year has passed since the storybook wedding in Mesquite of former Army medic Kevin Hardin to the woman who cared for him at Walter Reed Army Hospital after he was severely injured when a rocket propelled grenade slammed into his Humvee during combat operations in Samarra, Iraq in 2007.
Hardin spent two years in the hospital and was forced to undergo 32 surgeries and a lengthy, painful rehabilitation. During his recovery, Hardin met Lillian May who cared for him through the painful times. Over the course of two years Hardin was receiving medical treatments, the couple fell in love.
In August, 2009, Hardin proposed to May but the reality was he was severely injured including injuries to both arms, a fused wrist and loss of fingers. He also had several pieces of shrapnel in his brain which were inoperable. After being medically retired from the military, he was without a job.
Understanding their financial situation and with big challenges ahead, the couple knew that an elegant wedding was not in their future. Instead, they eloped and were married in a convenience store turned courthouse on April 16, 2010.
Fate was due to step into their lives however when Hardin's mother contacted a renowned group whose mission is to help wounded warriors. Christmas Can Cure was originally founded by Andre Carrier's family and is generously supported by Greg Lee of the Eureka Casino. Carrier is the Chief Operating Officer of the Eureka Casino.
The organization is designed to recognize the sacrifices of wounded warriors and remind them they are not alone. Hardin's mother wrote of her son and daughter-in-law's circumstances and asked “Is there anything Christmas Can Cure can do?”
“I was driving back to Mesquite when I read that email asking for help,” said Carrier. “I knew this was a special cause and immediately called Greg (Lee). Within two hours we hatched a plan to give them the wedding they had dreamed of.”
“It is a great privilege for us to host their wedding in Mesquite, a small town that values and honors the contributions of our servicemen and women,” Lee said at the time, a year ago. Funded almost entirely by the Eureka, the couple and their families were flown to Mesquite, provided accommodations, food and ground transportation and a pre-wedding community reception on Veterans Day. Their beautiful wedding was followed by an all-expenses paid honeymoon in Hawaii.
[Photos courtesy of the Eureka Casino Hotel.]
“We are grateful for the generosity of Christmas Can Cure, the men and women of the Eureka and the entire community of Mesquite,” Hardin's mother said after the wedding.
Hardin continued to suffer through the pain and havoc that his critical injuries forced him to endure. Despite treatment, his medical problems did not get any better. The couple moved to Texas near Ft. Hood Army Medical Center. “Kevin felt such a bond to his army buddies that even though he was medically retired from the army, he wanted to make Ft. Hood his home so that he could be close to them,” said his mother.
Due to the injuries he received in combat, Hardin passed away in the hospital on Jan. 22. He was buried Jan. 27 with full military honors at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. Hardin is survived by his wife of one year and several family members. He was 25 years old.
In an interview with the Mesquite Citizen Journal, Carrier commented in a solemn voice on the tragedy that had befallen the Hardin family. “It is difficult to know what to say. We (Greg Lee, myself and the staff of the Eureka) have been in constant contact with Lillian Hardin (Kevin's widow) and his parents.”
Pausing to collect his thoughts, Carrier said in a sometimes broken voice, “this is so very sad for Lillian to have lost someone that was so clearly the love of her life. It is so sad for Kevin's parents who thought they might have lost their son, only to rejoice when they got him back, and then to lose him again. And it is so sad for our friend, Kevin, who had gone through so much and had so many possibilities ahead of him. And finally, it is so sad for our community in Mesquite who opened up their hearts and gave the gift of hope to someone they didn't know, only to feel the loss of his passing.”
Carrier went on to explain that the whole community had come together to make the wedding a success and so many people gave of themselves unselfishly. Greg Lee, the staff of the Eureka, the people of Mesquite, and the Christmas Can Cure Foundation, all joined together as one to help someone less fortunate.
“There is a lesson in this,” said Carrier. “After we mourn, we have to pick ourselves up because there is a lot of work to do. Kevin would have wanted us to do more, to pay attention and to be part of the answer. He would have wanted us to care for our community and for our veterans. To care for the 35,000 injured and traumatized veterans returning from this war and the tens of thousands who have returned from previous wars. We have a lot of work to do but we can do it.”
People wanting to make a donation to the Christmas Can Cure Foundation can visit the Web site at www.ChristmasCanCure.com
[Editor's note: Even though Kevin Hardin was not a resident of Mesquite, he and his family became part of our community. Please join the Staff of the Mesquite Citizen Journal in mourning his passing.]