A soldier's homecoming: Mixson back for holidays

-A A +A
By Pat Hibbs

Catlin Mixson is home for the holidays.

The 21-year-old Williston native, who was severely wounded in Iraq when an IED struck a Humvee in which he was riding, has been in recovery and rehab in Texas since being moved there after the September incident.

At Gainesville Regional Airport, Mixson's homecoming was crowded and festive. Thanks to the efforts of Levy County Sheriff Johnny Smith, the immediate family was able to greet Mixson on the tarmac.

Mixson was accompanied on the journey by his sister Alicia, who has been at his side in Texas throughout the initial stages of his rehabilitation.

He was clearly stunned when he entered the terminal to find about 250 people -- family, friends and members of area veterans' groups -- to welcome him. His mother, Karon, said he'd had no idea of the celebration awaiting him. Local TV featured his homecoming as their lead story on the late news.

The next part of the fun was a police escort -- or really two. The Alachua County Sheriff's Department escorted the caravan of about ten vehicles through Gainesville (with GPD officers blocking cross streets to let the convoy pass) and then, at the Alachua / Levy line, handed them over to Levy County Sheriff's deputies, led by Sheriff Smith, who escorted them the rest of the way home.

In Williston, the celebration was low-key. It was nearly nine, and very dark, when the caravan drove down Mixson Road, to the cheers of neighbors and friends who'd waited with lighted candles and American flags to greet the local hero.

At his parents' home, Mixson and the friends and family who'd accompanied him from the airport, mingled on the lawn for a few minutes, before enjoying a quiet buffet inside. Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat extended the city's official welcome home.

Mixson smiled happily, surrounded by family, friends, girlfriend Melissa Brewer, and, perhaps the most enthusiastic greeter of all, the family dog Ella. He said he'd been overwhelmed by the crowd at the airport and the police escort back to Williston.

Catlin and Alicia Mixson will stay in the area for about two weeks, probably being indulged in every whim, before returning to Texas for further rehab, which may take as long as two years.

For now, though, the family is living for the moment. Catlin's home.