GASTONIA, N.C. (FOX 46 Charlotte) - Friday marked a happy homecoming for members of the North Carolina National Guard. Over 170 soldiers returned from overseas, deployed in places like Dubai, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.
While some mothers, fathers, and children strained their necks to see their solider, Betty Lyles of Gastonia was not looking for her son.
“He was there. But he wasn’t. He was there in spirit,” said Lyles.
It was Alex’s life-long dream to be in the army, according to his mother, who adopted him when he was 5-years-old. But when he was getting ready for his physical to enlist, Alex learned he had stage four pulmonary arterial hypertension.
“The doctors said the military was out. It was very rough on him. He had to be on oxygen. He had to be confined to his room.”
Alex's mother believes if he didn’t get that military physical, they would have never caught his critical heart condition. A hospice nurse made arrangements for Alex to join the National Guard for a day. He got to ride in the humvee, go through drills, and train with the troops. The NC National Guard made him an honorary member, and gave him the rank of major.
“He came home that day in full uniform, grinning from ear to ear."
Alex was diagnosed with P.A.H. when he was 18-years-old and lost his battle when he was 24-years-old. But his journey did not end in the hospital.
“They made a set for him on that first day, and on the day he died they gave me his dog tags. Col. Poovey took one back and he also gave me one of his and said he would take them to the deployment and when he came back he would present them to me."
Lyles followed the battalion on Facebook as they traveled through the Middle East, carrying a piece of her son.
“After a while oversees, you build bonds with everyone here,” said Specialist Raekwon Davis. “They become your brothers.”
During Friday’s ceremony it was all smiles, except for one solider shedding a tear. Moments later he returned Alex’s dog tags to his mother, Betty.
“It was a conclusion,” said Lyles. “It was something he always wanted to do and he did it.”