JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A First Coast family celebrated a happy homecoming as a local sailor returned home after spending the last year in Afghanistan.
During Commander Gene Mershell's 36-year tenure with the U.S. Navy and 15-years of marriage, this past deployment was the first one his Navy wife experienced on her own.
"The other deployments he was in Italy, I went over a few times to see him there, he was in Bahrain, I went to see him there," said Arlene Mershell, Cdr. Mershell's wife.
But with Cdr. Mershell involved in the International Safety Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan the only communication the two had was over the phone, email, Skype and Facebook.
Arlene had to learn to live on her own but after nearly losing her husband more than 20 years ago, she was fearful of losing Gene to combat.
Cdr. Mershell and Arlene first met as teenagers in Kissimmee while she and her family visited Florida.
The couple dated for a year but they went their separate ways, Arlene marrying her first husband and Gene went into the Navy. But Arlene said she never forgot about the boy she met at 17.
"I hired a private investigator to try and find Gene and there was no record of him in the U.S.," said Arlene.
But in 1998, while watching the morning news in New York, she saw Cdr. Mershell talking about a tornado that had hit Florida.
Then as fate would have it, 22 years after the two long lost lovers met, they were married.
"Family is what gives you the strength to face the challenges day in and day out," said Cdr. Mershell.
Now, after combining their families the couple who fell in love as teenagers are able to take on life's challenges together again.
First Coast News