By Rebekah K. Bohannon Beele
About a thousand of Crossville’s residents and friends gathered at the Crossville Memorial Airport June 24 in the anticipated arrival of Marine Sgt. Christopher Hancock to welcome him home.
Hancock served his country during two tours in Afghanistan and, while on routine foot patrol, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated and he subsequently lost both legs. He has endured the physical and mental rigors of his life-altering injuries, including undergoing more than 50 surgeries, battling trauma and depression, and learning how to walk again with the use of prosthetic legs.
The sea of townsfolk from near and far had traffic backed up from the airport entrance five miles into town. First National Bank of Tennessee set up a hospitality tent giving out flags and bottled water and the Cumberland County Community Band played patriotic marches. Flags of all sizes were raised and waving in the wind. The color guard provided by the Korean War Veterans Association stood alongside Marines in their Dress Blue uniforms, Girl Scouts, Cumberland County Young Marines, Crossville Fire Department and Emergency Services, veterans associations and a host of other groups, family members, neighbors, friends and dignitaries came to share in Sgt. Hancock’s welcome home ceremony.
The plane landed in front of an ocean of red, white and blue. The crowd cheered and waved flags as Hancock stepped down and made his way through the aisle of people, shaking hands and smiling. Hancock and his beautiful wife, Danielle, walked together toward the stage set up in the hanger. A journalist from 6 News pulled Hancock aside and asked him how he feels, to which he responded, “It’s overwhelming.”
Gordon Stack of 102.5 Wow Country was the master of ceremonies and introduced Hancock and Danielle as the crowd roared for them. State of Tennessee Veteran Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder was the first speaker with a speech expressing her appreciation and admiration of Hancock’s service and devotion to his country. State Rep. Cameron Sexton spoke next, beginning his speech by saying, “With all of these wonderful American flags waving, there is such a deep sense of pride and honor.”
Sexton presented Hancock with a Tennessee State Seal signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, state Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, state Sen. Charlotte Burks, and himself. Stack quoted the Charlie Daniel’s lyric to which everyone agreed, “Isn’t it good to be alive and in Tennessee?”
Congressman Diane Black could not attend the ceremony but issued the following statement: “Sergeant Hancock truly is a Tennessee hero. I am inspired by his courage and his brave service to the country that he loves. I know that his homecoming will be a special time of celebration for his family, friends, and so many in our community who have been touched by his story and have been praying for him as he recovers from his injuries,” said Black. “We must never forget that every day members of our military are risking their lives defending our nation and the freedoms we hold dear. May we remember them each day in prayer, teach our children an appreciation and respect for their service, and do our part to give them the support they need when they return home.”
Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr. presented a plaque to Hancock outlining his accomplishments from graduating from Cumberland County High School and enlisting in the Marine Corps to becoming a combat engineer and serving two tours in Afghanistan and, ultimately, his ability to overcome injuries sustained as a result of his service. Carey also declared June 24, 2013, Sgt. Christopher Hancock Day.
Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III said, “I am not surprised so many are all here because our community is dedicated to all of our veterans.” Graham presented Hancock with a Distinguished Service Award and a key to the city.
Hancock decided to say a few words at the podium starting with, “I don’t know what got my heart going faster, turbulence or the crowd of people waiting for me.”
When asked to describe how he felt, Hancock simply stated, “Really emotional. Just a lot of emotions all rolled into one.”
In response to the question how does it feel to have the whole community come out to love him, he summed it up in one great word, “Incredible.”
Hancock will remain in Crossville visiting for two weeks and will then return to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. As of right now, he is on active duty but is awaiting the decision of whether he will be able to continue to serve in the USMC on active duty.
Regardless of what happens, though, Hancock is assured his community will be behind him every step of the way.
Sgt. Hancock and his family will be the guests of honor at the city of Crossville’s Fourth of July celebration. The evening begins at 5 p.m. Hancock will be introduced by Carrie Hassler at 5:45 p.m.