PORT ORCHARD, WA, USA U.S. Army PFC, TROOP B, 7TH SQUADRON, 10TH CAVALRY, 1 BCT, FORT HOOD, TX FORT SAM HOUSTON 06/23/2006
Family and friends remembered the way Private First Class 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.