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Family mourns loss of son
Aug 19, 2005 12:00 am
August 17, 2005
He played with toy soldiers as a child and as a man became a soldier himself, losing his heart to the children of war-torn Iraq long before losing his life for them.
Those were among the emotional recollections of a Wilson County family told just two days earlier that one of their own – the clan's only son – died in action in the war in Iraq.
"He believed in fighting for his country," said Faith Hawn, the mother of Staff Sgt. Asbury Hawn II, 35, who was killed early Sunday by enemy fire in Northeastern Iraq, becoming Wilson County's second casualty of the conflict.
Relatives said they have not yet been provided with specifics regarding the death of the National Guardsman, a one-time U.S. Army enlistee who leaves behind two children ages 4 and 12 and a 32-year-old wife, Angie.
"It was an ambush situation where they were responding to another unit. That's all we were told, that they were going to help someone else," said Faith Brownlee, one of the fallen soldier's sisters who bears her mother's name.
Compounding the shock for the tight-knit family was the heartbreaking knowledge Hawn's death came just one month before he was scheduled to travel to Kuwait to begin his journey home from war.
"He was supposed to be in Kuwait by Sept. 15," Brownlee said. "Then they were going to Camp Shelby to be reoriented and then he was supposed to be home."
Saddened relatives have not yet made funeral arrangements for the slain guardsman, though his widow has made plans for the burial to take place in LaVergne, where Hawn attended high school, Brownlee said.
The soldier's remains are expected to return to U.S. soil within seven to 10 days, said his father, Asbury Hawn Sr.
Hawn's siblings spent much of Tuesday together at the Flatwood Road home of their parents, where both American and British flags flew at half-mast on a permanent flag pole erected in the front yard, the English banner an acknowledgement of his British-born mother's U.K. citizenship.
Inside, amid an atmosphere of graceful, dignified grief, the serviceman's saddened sisters and mother described Hawn's life as one devoted to family and duty.
An employee of the Nissan Corp. manufacturing facility in Rutherford County, where he lived before moving to Wilson County nearly a decade ago, Hawn enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for four years before joining the Tennessee National Guard. He was serving with the 278th Regimental Combat team, headquartered in Knoxville, as part of a unit attached to the RCT based in McMinnville, military officials said.
Though he joined the ROTC while still in high school, his mother said she feels his military inclination began much, much earlier, surfacing first in boyhood.
"I think he took an interest in it when he was small," Faith Asbury said. "He would play soldier and he would play with those little toy soldiers that you used to be able to buy."
The dangerous duty Hawn undertook in Iraq wasn't the serviceman's first stint overseas, according to relatives, who said he also once participated in a peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
His tour of duty in Iraq was most marked by his concern for the children there, with Hawn collecting everything from coloring books to toothpaste for them, relatives said.
"His heart went out to those people, especially the children over there," the soldier's mother said, noting one of the family's favorite photos of Hawn shows him surrounded by smiling Iraqi children, all flashing the 'thumbs-up' sign. "Those kids just looked like they loved him to death."
Hawn's service, for him, illustrated the advantages of living in the U.S., one of his sisters noted.
"That was one of the things he always said, that it showed him how lucky we have it here," said Teresa Heriges, also one of Hawn's sisters.
Yet another of Hawn's sisters said she doesn't feel her brother's death will cause the family to change its support for the war effort.
"Why should it change? I know some families change because of that, but if you believe in it before, why would you not believe in it now?" asked Connie Murphy, one of two sisters who reside just a stone's throw from their father and brother.
Though living just a mile from her father, she called Sunday morning's drive to the home "the longest ride of my life" when her parents called to tell her – without even opening their front door – that military officials had arrived.
"By the road it's a mile and it seemed so long," Murphy said. "It was the longest ride of my life."
An officer and a military chaplain informed the family and later returned to speak to the slain soldier's widow, who was away in Gatlinburg with the couple's two children when the tragic news was delivered.
"She had to get somebody to drive her home," Brownlee said quietly, squinting at the flags in front of her father's home as a blistering sun beamed down from above, commenting softly that Hawn's 12-year-old son has virtually fallen silent since learning of his father's death at war. His younger sibling, as one would expect, is "too young to understand" the family's grief, she added.
"He's been awfully quiet. He's hardly said anything," she said of the oldest of the two sons.
Still, Hawn's mother said she feels the family is "doing as well as we can" as it struggles to absorb the second of two recent tragedies, the loss of her son coming just months after she and her husband lost two grandchildren – nieces to whom the fallen soldier was intensely devoted – in an auto accident.
"It's hard to be trying to get over that and then handle this," said the second Wilson County mother to lose a child in the Iraq conflict.
All of Hawn's sisters expressed a hope to see their brother remembered as a soldier dedicated to his duty and a father devoted to caring for his family.
"He was an excellent provider for his family," Brownlee said of her brother. "He was just a great father example."
All of Hawn's sisters also quickly shared a memory that brought a brief, bittersweet smile to all three of their faces, remembering how they – and they alone – called their brother 'Freddie.'
"We're the only ones who could do that," Heriges and Brownlee said gently, almost in unison.
Hawn was one of three area National Guardsman killed in the attack, which according to a statement from State Adjutant Gen. Gus Hargett occurred near "Forward Operating Base Bernstein" in the northeastern section of the country.
The two other war casualties were identified as Shannon D. Taylor, 20, of Smithville and Sgt. Gary L. Reese, 22, of Ashland City.
Hawn's death brought the war in Iraq home to Wilson County on its starkest level for the second time, coming just under a year after Marine Lance Cpl. Steven Charles 'Tyler' Cates, 22, of Mt. Juliet, was killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, by what military officials termed "enemy action."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.