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East Hall man focuses on future after Iraq injury
Tough times are getting better, says the White County native
Kevin Cannon stands with wife Jessie and their 3-year-old daughter Emma at their home in Gainesville. Kevin Cannon continues to struggle with recovering from war injuries in Iraq. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

These days, Kevin Cannon works a full-time job driving a truck for a cable company before unwinding at his East Hall home with his wife, 3-year-old daughter and the family's cat and dog.

Sounds normal, but for Cannon, life has been a daily struggle.

The recovery from disabling war injuries continues, but so do the memories of Iraq. The paranoia is so gripping he can't shower "for two seconds" without peeling back the curtain to see if someone is near.

And the guilt of knowing he's home and the men he fought with have carried the fight to Afghanistan weighs heavy.

All that said, the White County native, sitting on the couch in the family room of his Lakeview Drive home, wouldn't change a minute of his experience.

"I would do it 10 million times over again," Cannon said.

The turning point in the 24-year-old's life - as it was for so many - was Sept. 11, 2001. He was walking the halls of White County High School when he learned about the terrorist planes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.

He quickly discarded any ambitions to become a photographer.

"It hit me then that I knew I had to do something," Cannon said. "I knew I had to do my part."

He graduated from White County School in 2004, then shipped out for the Marine Corps. By that time, the U.S. had invaded and occupied Iraq and the fighting was intense.

Cannon was deployed to the country on January 2006.

He would find himself in one of the country's hottest battle zones. Fallujah was an insurgent stronghold.

"The people there were totally terrorized," he said. "The insurgents would threaten them and their families and they would never give us any information on (the enemy)."

Cannon and fellow Marines scoured the streets of the ancient city kicking in doors and searching for insurgents, a diverse mix of militias, foreign fighters and others opposing the U.S.-led multinational force.

They looked for bombs and disabled them and they tried to befriend the locals, sleeping in holes they dug out at night.

"Near the end of my deployment, things started to change, then they got worse," Cannon said.

One day, he and a few Marines were driving at idle speed down a road and a bomb went off underneath their Humvee.

"All I remember is I was the first person to wake up and everybody was limp in the vehicle," he said. "My best friend was at the gun and I started shaking him. I was just waiting for (his) blood to flow down my arms.
"He finally started kicking and (was alive)."

The Marines were taken to a hospital, where Cannon was treated for a severe concussion.

"One (doctor) said I was a stage away from being completely brain dead," he said. "Also, I hurt my knee and my back was a little compressed. I couldn't move for a while. I was just lying in bed - I couldn't sit up, I couldn't do anything."

After recovery, he received a 20-day break and then it was back to kicking in doors and looking for the enemy.

Finally, deployment ended in August 2006 and Cannon headed for home and Camp Pendleton, where he met Jessica, a New York native on vacation. The two dated, got married and had their first child, Emma.

Life seemingly was normal again, but Cannon couldn't shake the memories of war.

Nine guys he served with had died, although none of those were in the Hummer on the day of his injury.

On one occasion, he watched as an explosion ripped through a man on a bicycle, blowing him "into thousands of pieces," and a pre-teen boy was hit in the chest by a piece of shrapnel.

"The kid went running through a field to his family and he lay down - he was dead," Cannon said, pausing between words and clearing his throat. "It was horrible - little kids shouldn't die like that."

Doctors have said Cannon suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"It's hard for a military member to admit it," he said. "When I was in the Marine Corps, I was the last person to think that I had it."

Cannon recently adopted a kitten, 4-month-old Gibbs, through Hounds4Heroes, a North Carolina organization that pairs up homeless animals with veterans struggling from the effects of war.

"I can pet it and it can be a comfort to me," he said.
Jessica said she has noticed Kevin lapsing into deep thought and Gibbs "will come up and distract him from it, so that's pretty neat."

And these are especially tough times.

The Marines he served with are in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

"They've been over there only four months and have lost 25 guys - about 20 percent," Kevin said. "What I went through is probably nothing compared to what they're going through right now.

"I have an enormous amount of guilt not re-enlisting and being over there with them right now, but I know they're trained and they're going to do very well."

Cannon left the Marines in April 2009, after finishing up a second tour that lasted from October 2007 to April 2008.

The second tour was much more uplifting than the first one. He could begin to see the fruits of the military's labors - children playing outdoors without fear and, while the practice isn't culturally acceptable, couples holding hands walking down the street.

"When we were able to suppress the insurgency, people were so grateful," Cannon said. "The light was back in Iraq."

For the Cannons, getting into a normal, post-Marines lifestyle has posed several challenges. The economy didn't help with Kevin's job search.

He has secured full-time work. "I drive around looking for people stealing cable," he said.

And his wife is a full-time student at Lanier Technical College, studying nursing.

"It's been tough, but things are getting better now," Cannon said. "... Things are starting to look up. I just put my faith in God and try to move on."