Vinton Soldier Returns Home

June 24, 2007
Reported By: Lee Peck

Finally home, friends and family of Sergeant First Class John Michael Hennen can begin the process of laying him to rest. The 26-year-old Vinton native was killed last weekend while serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Still finding it hard to believe is fellow soldier and friend Staff Sgt. Robert Baggett.

"It's hard, especially when you spend a year with a guy in Baghdad, under extremely tense fire and heavy fire a lot of times. And he makes it through all that, especially serving in his capacity as a sniper... Then he comes back for what's supposed to be an easy tour training the Afghanis forces... And he gets killed. It's difficult," said Baggett.

The two soldiers met four years ago in sniper school, where Hennen proved himself earning the nickname "Hammer."

"He's not exactly built like a hammer. Hennen was always a skinny fella -- that's not to say he wasn't tough... He was a tough guy," said Baggett. "But when he graduated sniper school head of his class... We realized this guy was a tremendous elite soldier... So the name hammer stuck."

Among 12 chosen to go on a special operations mission in Afghanistan, Hennen was dedicated to his work. But always found the time to call home,  phoning his friend just three days before his death.

"You never expect something like this. But unfortunately this happens. This is the price we pay, we're soldiers," said Baggett.

Honoring that sacrifice is the Patriot Guard Riders. "We honor these people who fight and die so we have the freedoms that we have in this country. One of those freedoms is for us to ride our bikes anywhere we want, including these events," said Dwayne Broussard.

Like the bikers, many of the people who lined the streets did not know Hennen. But Kevin Sheumaker did. "We trained together in an Alpha Company unit years ago," said Sheumaker. "He was was a good guy. He went to sniper school in Camp Robinson and finished as an honor grad from the sniper school. Real good soldier!"

Two other soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were also killed in the attack. Meanwhile, Sergeant First Class Hennen's funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Vinton. Following the funeral there will be a procession to Niblett's Bluff Cemetery, which will begin at the church on Center Street, then turn right onto Horridge Street which leads to the cemetery. Residents are asked to line the route in honor of the fallen soldier.