MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - Over the years on WHNT News 19 you've seen dozens of happy service member homecoming stories - many of them with an element of surprise. But Friday we got to be part of a homecoming of a different sort in Madison.
As friends, collaborators and supporters prepared for the surprise the Johnson family was sequestered at a Jeff Benton model home just down the way in the Legacy Cove community off Zierdt Road.
An SUV ushered the Johnson family down Autumn Cove Drive to what they still had no idea would be their future address.
During the event, Johnson learned he, his wife Tiffany and 3 children Amy, Rebecca and Michael - 9, 8 and 6 - will be receiving a brand new, mortgage-free home. This event also marks the first ever Operation FINALLY HOME build to take place in Alabama.
Johnson and his family certainly deserve it given all their collective sacrifices. You see, Cpl. Johnson signed up for the Marine Corps even before he was eligible to serve - in high school, requiring his mother's consent.
"He tells me that he still has his paper where his mother signed - in her signature, her tears," said retired Lt. Gen. Willie J. Williams as he stood patting Johnson's shoulder.
As the crowd cheered them on Johnson shared an emotional moment with his wife. The kids were obviously thrilled as they loaded up pint-sized shovels with Alabama red clay and pitched in into the wind.
Johnson stood on, still in disbelief.
"I would have never in my wildest dreams think that this would happen," Johnson said. "And my family deserves it for all they've been through and it's just amazing."
the event represents a hand up from FINALLY HOME, and a step up for the Johnson's
"I'm actually proud of the progress that we're making because some of the houses that we've been in haven't been a place you would invite people over to so this is going to be an awesome start for my family," Johnson beamed.
Operation FINALLY HOME was started in Texas in 2005. Since that time they have built nearly 60 homes for military families - almost 16 homes already this year.
"Those are big numbers," said Rusty Carroll, FINALLY HOME Executive Director, "But the number we're here to talk about today is the one - we talk about the number of homes and the number of lives that we're touching, but we simply do it one home and one family at a time."
Let there be no doubt - the Johnson family is certainly grateful.
"Just a rich of emotions."
Construction on the Johnson family's new home will start in two weeks. The move in day is scheduled, fittingly, for Veteran's Day.