SKHS graduate wounded in Iraq loses final battle

The 19-year-old Port Orchard soldier whose fight for life after being wounded in Iraq has captivated local supporters finally succumbed last Friday when he died at a burn center in San Antonio, Texas.

Pfc. Devon Gibbons suffered serious burns and lost both legs when a convoy he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb near Taji, Iraq, in April. Three other soldiers were killed in the explosion.

Gibbons’ body will be returned to Port Orchard this week for a funeral on Saturday at 2 p.m.

His aunt, Jillian Rochon, will arrive Friday from her home in Lodi, Calif., with Devon’s grandmother.

“This has been such a trial for him, obviously, and for his family. It’s been a test of faith,” Rochon said Monday during a phone interview. She described her nephew as “lovable.”

“We’re just relieved he’s not in pain anymore,{ she said, “We’re sorry he left us, but he’s taken care of now.”

Doctors initially said Gibbons’ chance of recovery was slim, but his family marveled over a series of small victories he won as he battled back from burns that covered nearly 90 percent of his body.

Mel and Bonnie Gibbons, Devon’s parents, moved temporarily to San Antonio to stay near Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was being treated. They maintained a Web site to update the public on his condition.

“Devon returned to the loving arms of the Savior about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, June 23rd...,” they wrote. “Devon is a true Calvary Scout and a valiant man. His determination and strength kept him with us long enough to be an example to all of us and for him to turn his heart to the Lord.”

“He loved much, he loved life, he fought a great fight and finished the course,” the Web site said.

Gibbons’ uncle, Dan Bligh, said the family chose to share the success stories rather than the grim details of spending 10 weeks at the hospital with their son because they believed his survival was inspirational.

Mel Gibbons said initially he was certain his son could survive, but he acknowledged the family was content that Devon’s suffering had ended.

“Please remember that Devon’s injuries were so extensive and his road to recovery would have been extremely long, painful and difficult,” his family said.

Gibbons had an operation to seal a ruptured artery on June 2, and he constantly battled fevers and infections that were associated with two wounds in his bowels. He was even on a breathing apparatus to help his lungs.

Mel Gibbons flew back and forth between San Antonio and Port Orchard as the family tried to remain by Devon’s side throughout the ordeal. Hundreds of well-wishers attended a local service in April, and many more have sent supportive cards and messages via the Web site.

Gibbons was driving a Bradley fighting vehicle when a remote-controlled explosive device was detonated in the roadway. Killed were Pfc. George R. Roehl Jr., 21, of Manchester, N.H.; Pfc. James F. Costello III, 27, of St. Louis; and Cpl. Joseph A. Blanco, 25, of Bloomington, Calif.

Gibbons was airlifted by a Blackhawk helicopter and taken to a hospital in Germany before he was transferred to Texas.

His legs and one arm were later amputated. Another soldier, Staff Sgt. Pio Paau of American Samoa, also was rescued and is recovering in Texas.

Rochon said what she remembers most about Devon as he grew up was his ability to keep everything light-hearted, and that his enthusiasm lifted the spirits of those around him.

“He was a computer geek. He’d always mess up my computer. He was a fun kid,” Rochon recalled. “He was always laughing. Even when things got serious, he had a way of making everybody smile.”

Bonnie Gibbons has praised her son’s heroism and the family on the website Friday urged others not to be upset about Devon’s death as the result of the war. He became the most recent U.S. soldier out of more than 2,500 to die in Iraq.

“Please do not dishonor his sacrifice by being angry,” Devon’s parents wrote. “He knowingly and willingly went to fight for others so they would be free and so the terrorists would never return to U.S. soil. It is an honor to be his parents and we choose to always honor his memory and be grateful for his desire to serve others.”

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