Keith Hass, a reader from Spring Branch, in a letter to the editor last week, complimented the Express-News for publishing this photo of a beautiful, innocent Winchester, Va., first-grader reacting to her father, who she thought was in Afghanistan, walking into the cafeteria as she ate lunch with her classmates at Redbud Run Elementary.
“The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ doesn’t even begin to describe this reaction,” Hass wrote of the Sept. 30 photo on Page 3A of Alexis McGregor, 6, at the moment she realized that her daddy, Army Sgt. Jon McGregor, was home again.
As Hass said, this photograph, by Winchester Star photographer Rick Foster, says a lot, but there is more to this thoroughly modern story. And thanks to Foster’s colleague at the Star, reporter Joel Danoy, and the Internet, here it is:
Sgt. McGregor, with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., was sent to Afghanistan in April. He earlier served a year in Afghanistan and 15 months in Iraq, respectively. He returned stateside on a two-week leave Sept. 27.
McGregor and Alexis’s mother are no longer married. Alexis lives with her mother and stepfather, Autumn and Tom Earhart, in Winchester. Proving that there is not a dark side to every divorce story, Jon and his new wife, Christina, stayed with the Earharts when they came to see Alexis and her 3-year-old brother. The Earharts were in on the surprise, they told Danoy.
“She always talks about him and asks when she can see him again. We’ve had to lie and tell her that her dad will be home next summer,” Autumn Earhart said, noting Alexis sleeps with a photo of her dad on her pillow.
“It’s been hard because we try and talk with her about him being gone,” Tom Earhart told Danoy. “She thinks the world of her dad. It was good to see the expression on her face. It gave me chills.”
As for dad? “I was ecstatic,” Sgt. McGregor said. “I almost started crying when I picked her up. It really touched my heart.”
With divorce exacting so much pain on so many people these days — I cite the Lacombe custody case here in San Antonio as Exhibit No. 1 — the way the McGregors and Earharts dealt with this drama is more important than the drama itself — acting like grownups are supposed to act. A good lesson for Alexis and her brother as they grow older and their lives get more complicated.
A final point, made by letter-writer Hass: “Whether you believe in this war or not is irrelevant because without those people in the armed forces making the sacrifices that are asked of them we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today.”
This is a story worth following, and I hope we can do that to a happy ending. But it’s too early to see where it’s going. The war is about to enter its 10th year and Jon McGregor returns to Afghanistan this week. “There is nothing good about being over there,” he told the Winchester Star. “This (the reunion with his kids) is a breath of fresh air and it’s a real nice break.”
This column was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on Oct. 12, 2010.