September 14, 2005
The young soldier was sent to New Orleans with Fort Gordon’s 93rd Signal Brigade to restore the city he grew up in. And this soldier went there to work not knowing his own family was safe.
Specialist Corey Kelly grew up about five miles outside of New Orleans’ West Bank in a town called Gretna. The day before we met him, he was on a new mission: to find his dad. Looking at his destroyed hometown again was too painful for Specialist Kelly and you’ll see why.
When you meet Specialist Corey Kelly you can’t help but be drawn to his big smile. And when you ask him what it was like to grow up in Gretna, LA, just miles away from the Superdome, that smile somehow gets bigger.
“I have a lot of good memories over there,” Kelly said.
Corey grew up in Gretna, but left three years ago to join the Army. He hadn’t been home since. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, he was quickly called up to New Orleans with Fort Gordon’s 56th Signal Battalion to restore communication. But with phone lines out for civilians, Corey had still not spoke with his own dad, or “Pops” as he calls him.
When Corey’s commander heard that, they set out to Gretna for a reunion. A drive through the town shows destruction on every corner.
The house Specialist Kelly grew up in is okay, but a big tree fell on his cousin’s house, downing power lines and pretty much destroying it.
“I had plans of getting out and doing things. Now it’s like I have nothing to go home to,” Kelly said.
But his smile returned when Corey saw Good Hope Baptist Church still standing. His great grandfather built it.
“I was really worried about that because it was the center of the neighborhood,” Kelly said.
His grandmother’s house is next to the church. It’s still standing, too, but no sign of Pops yet.
A turn around the corner to his uncle’s house and Kelly saw his dad for the first time in years.
“I ran inside and he was there and we hugged and it was the highlight of the day right there. I was happy,” Kelly said.
Corey gave his dad a dog tag his unit wears. The bible verse Joshua 1:9 is on it, which says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified.”
A verse to remember as he works to rebuild his home.
“This is where I grew up and if I can have a hand in rebuilding it, it will just make it that much better when it’s up and running again,” Kelly said.
And when that happens, be looking for the biggest smile yet.