101st Soldier pulls through for sister.
Posted on Sun, May. 28, 2006
Soldier surprises sister at graduation
Gilbert High principal helps with secret appearance
By BILL ROBINSONbrobinson@thestate.com
VISIT FROM IRAQ
Lexington 1 handed out 1,140 diplomas Saturday, including one to Trina Marie Shealy, who had a guest travel halfway around the world to see her graduate from Gilbert High School.
Spc. Kevin Clowdis flew in to attend his sister’s commencement ceremony from Iraq, where he’s on duty near Tikrit with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Clowdis’ appearance at Carolina Coliseum was a closely held secret. Shealy learned of her brother’s presence only when Gilbert High principal Paul Shealy, who is no relation, introduced him before diplomas were awarded.
From stage right, the 6-foot Clowdis, wearing a crisply pressed camouflage uniform, strode confidently onto the blue-carpeted arena floor.
At first, Trina Shealy, 18, did not know what to do because she initially did not see Clowdis. Then, she rose from her seat, followed by her 175 Gilbert High classmates, each clad in bright red gowns. The audience stood, too, and applauded.
Clowdis marched down the center aisle, where they embraced. Tears came to Trina Shealy’s eyes — and to many more too numerous to count.
“She cried,” Clowdis said. “That’s what I was hoping for. That made it all worth it.”
After the ceremony, his sister conceded, “He got me. I love it. I’m so excited.”
“I can’t believe he did this for me,” she said.
The Shealy family expected 50 relatives and friends at Saturday’s ceremony, but left one seat empty as a symbolic gesture for Clowdis. Sharon Shealy, the siblings’ mother, marked it with a yellow ribbon accented with red, white and blue bunting.
The principal agreed to the ruse after Mark Swihart, an uncle, contacted the school about the effort that Clowdis, 26, was making to attend the event.
Paul Shealy initially had reservations about allowing a recognition involving one student, but decided the timing was right: the nation has thousands of servicemen and -women overseas putting their lives on the line; it is Memorial Day weekend; and Lexington County brims with patriotism.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” the principal said.
As Clowdis waited for Shealy to meet him after the ceremony, well-wishers shook his hand. “Thanks for all you do” was a common refrain.
Clowdis and Shealy communicate by phone and e-mail when their schedules allow. A few months ago, Clowdis asked his sister what she would like from him as a graduation present.
“I want you home,” Clowdis recalled her saying, to which he responded, “You know I can’t do that.”
Nevertheless, Clowdis requested 15 days of leave, hopeful he might get lucky. “I didn’t think I was going to get home.”
A commanding officer called him in April 22 and told him his leave had been approved.
“It pretty much fell into my lap — it was perfect timing,” Clowdis said. He spent 16 hours in the air over two days before arriving in Columbia Wednesday.
Growing up, Clowdis said he and Shealy had a typical relationship for siblings eight years apart, which is to say they tended to go their separate ways. After entering the Army, “The more I was gone, the closer we got,” he said.
Swihart, who helped orchestrate the surprise and kept Clowdis sequestered, confirmed that assessment. “I know this means the world to Trina. She loves ‘Bubba’ very much. We just enjoy pulling off this surprise,” Swihart said.
Shealy, who plans to study physical therapy at Midlands Technical College, said she was overwhelmed being cast in the spotlight on her graduation day.
Clowdis, who attended Gilbert High in the late 1990s and went on to earn his G.E.D., enlisted five years ago — seven months prior to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He said he realized at the time his life was headed down a troubling path and followed a cousin into the service. “I really feel like I’m making a difference,” Clowdis said.
He is on his second tour of Iraq, working security at a base near Saddam Hussein’s ancestral home. He also spent time in Bosnia.
Sharon Shealy is the typical nervous mother. She mostly avoids the daily grind of news coming out of Iraq, but is aware of what is happening there. She said she wasn’t surprised her son managed to find a way to get home.
“I told my daughter, ‘He belongs to the United States Army. I’m sorry.’ But I had that ‘mother’s feeling’ he would find a way to be here.”http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/14686203.htm