As South Piedmont Community College’s Practical Nursing graduates were lining up for their pinning ceremony July 23 at Shiloh Baptist Church in Monroe, graduate Hillary Mangum of Waxhaw scanned the audience to pick out her family members.
Then, she noticed someone she didn’t expect to see. “I said, ‘Oh my God, my dad is here,’” she recalled afterward. “I started tearing up.”
She did not expect to see her father, Buck Mangum of Monroe, because she thought he was in Afghanistan. A civilian contractor doing construction and HVAC work, he was not due home for another two weeks.
Her dad, who had not been home since February, had other ideas. He arranged to get his leave moved up two weeks. “I didn’t want to miss this,” he said. “I really wanted to see her graduate.”
Even though Mangum actually left Afghanistan on July 15, he knew he would be cutting it close to make the ceremony. “I wanted to make sure I got out,” he said. His journey home took him through Kuwait and Indiana. Once in Indiana, he was scheduled for a flight that would have him landing in Charlotte at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The ceremony was to begin at 7 p.m. When he realized there was an earlier flight with an open seat, he explained his situation and managed to get that seat. He landed in Charlotte around 2 p.m.
He made it to the ceremony in plenty of time and took his place with the rest of Hillary’s family. Once “Pomp and Circumstance” began playing, the audience turned to face the door and that’s when Hillary saw her dad.
“I had no idea,” Hillary said. “I started crying when we were lining up.”
The effort it took to get home was worth it for Buck Mangum. “She’s a special girl,” he said.