Friday, June 23, 2006

Army Pfc. Devon J. Gibbons

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Devon J. Gibbons, 19, of Port Orchard, Wash.

Pfc. Gibbons died on June 23, in the Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained on April 11 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle during combat operations in Taji, Iraq. Gibbons was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

For Port Orchard Soldier, the Fight is Finally Over

Wracked by injuries suffered in Iraq, Devon Gibbons, 19, peacefully passed away Friday.

By Angela Smith-Dice,
June 25, 2006

Family and friends remembered the way Pfc. Devon Gibbons of Port Orchard could light up a room with his smile as they mourned his death Saturday.

The 19-year-old Gibbons died Friday, two months after being burned and maimed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Over the past 10 weeks, his parents Mel and Bonnie Gibbons and five brothers stayed near Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where Gibbons fought to heal from burns on 90 percent of his body and the loss of parts of three limbs.

From the beginning, doctors were guarded about Devon’s chances for recovery.

During treatment, Devon’s heart raced at between 125 and 140 beats a minute.

"That’s like if you were to sprint around the track 24 hours a day," Mel Gibbons said during a phone interview Saturday from San Antonio.

It was a race for Devon to see if his skin grafts would take and allow his healing to continue.

"Your body can only take so much," his father said.

E-mails, letters of support and phone calls poured forth from those who knew or had just read about the 6-foot, 3-inch, dark-haired man who loved being around people and helping them.

Devon Gibbons’ smile broke out often, and it was contagious.

"The room would kind of light up," Mel said. "He was a really happy guy."

When a breathing tube temporarily prevented him from talking, Devon winked at the nurses.

He fought to lucidity through his pain medication so he could look at his family, smile and blink his eyes — once for yes, twice for no — to communicate when he couldn’t speak.

But he was able to talk to his family.

"One of the last words he was able to say was ‘I love you’ and ‘Come here’" to his mother, Mel said. Devon wanted to give her a kiss.

While he was in the hospital, many strangers — most in the military or married to a serviceman — from around the world offered prayers and notes of inspiration after looking at a Web site set up by Devon’s brother-in-law to update people about his condition.

Photos and written entries on the Web site allowed them almost to know Devon and his family. It made more personal the story of one of the nearly 20,000 men and women injured since the Iraq war began in March 2003. More than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have died. About 127,000 men and women are serving in Iraq.

"Please know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people that you have touched in the last few months — your story has made us all grateful, and PROUD to be Americans ...," read an entry from the Warner family posted on the web site.

Devon believed in what he was doing in Iraq, his friends said.

He was excited to join the Army, even though his friends tried to talk him out of it, said Lindsey Costello, a close friend.

He looked up to one of his older brothers, who also had joined the military. And he looked up to his father, who served in Vietnam. On his Web site, Devon listed his father as his hero.

"He is a great man and I have so much respect for him," he wrote.

He talked about the other soldiers in his unit — the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team from Fort Hood Texas — as if they were his second family, Costello said.

"That’s all he talked about when we flew him out," shortly before he left for Iraq.

Devon was in Iraq for about a month when on April 11 a remote-controlled roadside bomb was detonated beneath the armored vehicle he was driving. Three other soldiers in the vehicle died.

Devon was flown for emergency care to Germany and then to San Antonio. For 2 1/2 months, he fought through infections and other complications.

On Friday morning, doctors told Mel and Bonnie that after working so hard to heal for the past 10 weeks, his body was starting to wear out. They thought he would live another four to eight days.

Mel and Bonnie went back to the Fisher House, a place provided for families of hospitalized soldiers. Nurses called at about 3:20 p.m. and the couple was already on their way over.

Devon died by the time they got there.

The nurses told Mel and Bonnie that about 3:30 p.m., he looked at the monitors, then shut his eyes for the last time. His heart rate went down. And then it just stopped.

"Actually, it is for the best, because Devon was in so much pain," his father said.

A contingent of Army friends from Fort Hood arrived in San Antonio, a couple of hours after Mel called them Friday night. They stayed with the family, worked through much of the paperwork and made sure everything went smoothly.

In the span of a short conversation Saturday afternoon, Mel Gibbons kept mentioning the people who had helped their family — the doctors, the nurses, the Army and the community back home in Port Orchard.

"We need to express our love and really heartfelt appreciation and gratitude," Mel said.

He and Bonnie plan to return home Monday. A memorial service is tentatively planned for Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stake center on Mullenix Road.

For some, Devon Gibbons’ death came as a shock.

Dustin Vavra and Devon, friends since the seventh grade, had e-mailed each other while Devon was in Iraq. He regularly asked about how things were going back home.

Like many people in Port Orchard and around the country, Vavra looked on the Web site to see how Devon was doing, and recently the entries had seemed somewhat hopeful.

But then, "I got home last night and got on .. I was kind of blindsided by it," Vavra said.

A group of Devon’s friends gathered Friday night.

"We talked about the memories .... We tried to make it a celebration of his life," Costello said.

"We acted like he was there with us."

Army Pfc. Devon J. Gibbons died on 06/23/06 as a result of wounds received in action on 04/11/06.

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