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Thomas J Gibbons


U.S. Army



Gibbons, with the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, told his wife, Kelly, that if his daughters — Lauren, 3, and Emily, born in November — ever asked why he had gone to Afghanistan, they needed to understand what happened on September 11, 2001.

Gibbons, of Huntingtown in Calvert County, died January 30, 2003, with three other soldiers when the MH-60L Black Hawk helicopter he was co-piloting reportedly crashed during a training mission near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He was 31. He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for heroes.

Growing up in Calvert County, Gibbons was a guitar-playing free spirit, but one also imbued with a sense of duty that compelled him to join the ROTC in high school.

He also dreamed of flying. Two months after high school, he enlisted. He wanted to become a Marine but thought it would be more difficult to become a pilot in the corps. So he joined the Army, becoming a member of the 101st Airborne Division. Then came Desert Storm and his first brush with war.

“When he left for Desert Storm 12 years ago, he said, ‘If we don’t come home the way we want me to come home, do what we can to get me in Arlington,’ ” his father recalled.

But his son did return safely to Calvert County after a tour during the Gulf War. But soon the military was actively reducing its ranks, and Gibbons left the Army. He lived with his mother in Edgewater and turned to the electrical trade. But he quickly found that he was no longer meant for civilian life. It wasn’t because of any war trauma or feeling unable to fit in: He just knew where he fit in best.

“He missed what he did in the service and the opportunity to challenge himself,” his father said.

So after a year or so, he reenlisted and eventually went to Ranger school. He survived the training, but it was not enough for him. “Rangers can’t fly,” his father said. He worked his way into flight school. In 1997, he got his wings.

“Proudest day of his life,” his father said. “He had finally arrived.”

As he requested should he not make it home safely, Thomas Gibbons got his hero’s send-off yesterday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery – the burial location he had requested years ago. On Wednesday, Gibbons’s father partook in a more private ritual. He drove up from Huntington to Arlington and asked the funeral director if he could open the coffin and spend some time with his son.

Then once again, the father took out a torn dollar bill that he had given to his son in 1991. “I opened up his blazer and put it in his shirt pocket,” he said.

Over his son’s heart.

Then, he took the other half home with him, saving it for another undertaker at another time. “When my day comes,” the father said, “I’ll put it in my shirt pocket. We’ll meet together, and we’ll be one again.”


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