East Texas Remembers Fallen Heroes

by Jessica Cervantez

Anyone who has driven through Huntington lately has probably seen Robbie Maxwell on the side of the road. She spends her days out there showing her support for the United States troops with signs and words, and it is been a tough week for this patriotic lady.

Robbie Maxwell reads a letter from a South Texas woman. The letter writer appreciates the support Robbie is showing for the troops.

It has been an emotional week for Robbie. A Huntington soldier was hurt in combat, and a Lufkin soldier was killed. She thinks of these soldiers like family members. She has a message for the family of Staff Sgt. Todd Gibbs, the Lufkin soldier who lost his life.

Maxwell said, "I love you. I know what you're going through. I can't help you much, but all I can do is say, 'I love you', and I pray for you, that you get through this. You'll never forget it, but you'll always be proud of him."

Robbie has been ready to retire from her roadside vigil three times. Each time, though, something has happened to convince her that she needs to stay out there, honoring all the brave people who are serving our country.

Maxwell said, "I'm here waiting for them. I can't quit on them, and when I get a letter from a mother about her only son over there, somehow I just can't do it."

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, six East Texas soldiers have lost their lives defending our country.

The first East Texan to die in Iraq was 24-year-old Joseph Suell of Lufkin. He died on June 16, 2003 from what the Pentagon says were non-combat-related injuries. The exact cause of Suell's death has never been released.

Two months after Suell's death, 19-year-old Army Sgt. Steven Wayne White of Kilgore was killed when his convoy was attacked outside of Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit.

Twenty-one-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Stuart Moore of Livingston was killed in Baghdad last December when an explosive device hit his convoy.

In January of this year, 20-year-old Larry Polley Jr. of Center was killed while conducting a surveillance sweep in Iraq. His vehicle struck an explosive device and overturned, killing Polley and two other soldiers.

Thirty-eight-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Charles Fortenberry of Woodville died in April when his helicopter was shot down by insurgents while protecting a fuel convoy.

Most recently, 37-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Todd Clayton Gibbs of Lufkin was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Iraq. Gibbs had been in the army for 13 years. He was deployed to Iraq in August. Gibbs grew up in Lufkin and graduated from high school in 1986.

Funeral arrangements have now been set for Gibbs. Visitation will be held next Friday, December 17th, at the Gipson-Metcalf Funeral Home late in the afternoon. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, the 18th at the First United Methodist Church in Lufkin at 10:00 a.m.

A Todd Gibbs Memorial Fund has also been set up for his children at Huntington State Bank.