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Epilogue | Kenneth LaFon

Lessons from war shaped him for life

SPRING HILL — Kenneth LaFon once mounted his motorcycle and rode alone for days in search of a little peace.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he saw the names of his comrades. It was something he had to do.

During the Vietnam War, his Air Force flight crew went on a mission and disappeared over the jungle forever. Mr. LaFon, then a navigator on the plane, was at a medical exam that day. He survived.

"Those men were still people that he spoke of and missed," said his daughter, Michelle Robertson. "It really was something he never left behind."

It made him committed to help others.

Once, Mr. LaFon made waves when he got arrested at a civil rights rally in Texas, where he had pilot's training. He came to the rally to save his brother-in-law, an activist, from the same fate.

Mr. LaFon had a passion for equality. When traveling the world, he avoided tourist traps and brought his three children to witness real human crises.

"He made an effort to make sure that we saw how people truly lived around the world," said Robertson. "It gave us an appreciation that no matter how things are in America, we understand from a firsthand point of view how very blessed we are."

After graduating at the top of his class, he became a rescue pilot, searching for those in the same peril of his lost friends. When bad eyes caused him to stop flying, he became a military police commander and worked with police dogs on base. Later, he took a job as a morale and recreation commander, helping soldiers unwind from the stress of military life.

He retired decorated with medals. He moved to St. Petersburg, taught math and worked at casinos dealing cards. In 2002, he married a childhood sweetheart, Phyllis VanDenBurg LaFon, and moved to Spring Hill.

Mr. LaFon hated being cooped up. He loved fishing and hunting but had a deep respect for nature. He felt spiritual kinship with wolves and wore their image on many of his clothes.

He taught his children and grandchildren military-style manners and respect — yes, ma'am; yes, sir. He taught them to help underdogs.

"Integrity was very important to my father," said his daughter, JoAnn Wechter. "He really believed that when he was given people to care for, that was a responsibility he carried onward."

He battled heart problems and throat and tongue cancer. He was eventually cancer free, but treatments weakened him beyond repair, his family said.

On Oct. 29, they all gathered around his bedside. After a while, they left the room.

Alone, with nobody to bear it but him, he died. He was 68.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

.Biography

Kenneth LaFon

Born: Sept. 15, 1940.

Died: Oct. 29, 2008.

Survivors: mother, Enola LaFon; sister, Elizabeth Flack Hoffman and husband, Les; wife, Phyllis LaFon; children, Michelle Robertson and husband, Gordon, JoAnn Wechter and companion, Brady Fisher, Robert LaFon; nine grandchildren; one great-grandson; three stepchildren; five stepgrandchildren.

Services: 2:30 p.m. Friday at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell.

Lessons from war shaped him for life 11/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 5:07pm]
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