Staff Sgt. Jeremy Cooney and his fellow Marines were returning from Afghanistan to a Camp Lejeune gymnasium crowded with friends and loved ones. "We Are the Champions" was blaring, and it seemed like another wonderful homecoming.
Jeremy called to his son. Michael Cooney, six, has cerebal palsy, and could never walk on his own. But unbeknownst to Jeremy, he had spent months learning how, and he was ready to greet his father with his newfound ability.
Slowly, with joyous, halting steps, Michael made his way across the gym to his father's waiting arms. You can hear the crowd cheering as Jeremy scoops him up, the rest of his excited family crowding around him.
"Doctors originally said that he would never walk or do much of anything," Melissa Cooney wrote of her son on the Welcome Home Blog. "While daddy was away, he learned to walk... We kept the fact that he could walk a secret the whole time his dad was gone!"
Melissa told HLN the hours leading up the Michael's big moment were full of nerves. The Cooney family had arrived at the gym around 10 p.m. and waited all night until their Marines finally arrived nearly seven hours later. Melissa was afraid her son would be tired, but he wasn't. Not at all. "I think he knew the whole time daddy was coming," Melissa said. "And he was going to walk for him."
It was easy to keep Michael's progress a secret during Jeremy's deployment, but it was a busy few months for the little boy and his four loving siblings who supported him along the way. "It started with him just learning to stand up without holding on to anything. Once he mastered that, he would start to just take one step at a time," Melissa said. "His siblings were a big part in helping him learn."
After four deployments and nearly eleven years in the service, it is hard to imagine a sweeter homecoming for Jeremy Cooley. But his son's story serves to prove one thing: For some people, heroes just run in the family.