Saturday August 3, 2013

Editor's note: This story was first published in the Aug. 11, 2003 Reformer.

BRATTLEBORO -- Family and friends mourned and shared stories about a Brattleboro resident killed Wednesday night during an attack in Baghdad, Iraq as news of his death rippled throughout the region.

Pvt. Kyle C. Gilbert, 20, of the Army's 82nd Airborne division, died of a gunshot wound received during guard duty in Baghdad's Al Mansour district, according to army spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Curry. Also killed -- most likely during the same attack -- was Staff Sgt. Brian Richard Hellerman of Sauk Centre, Minn., said Curry.

"He was our only child," said Regina Gilbert, Gilbert's mother. "It's a big sacrifice."

Gilbert, born in Brattleboro, graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in 2001. He left for Iraq on March 6.

Gilbert's parents, who recently moved to Guilford, said their son began his training at Fort Benning, in Georgia, in June 2001. At that time, both parents decided to move to Mississippi to be near him.

"We kind of followed him a little bit," said Regina Gilbert.

Discussing Gilbert's death at a solemn gathering at a neighbor's home in Guilford, his parents described their son as gregarious and hard-working -- and in possession of an infectious sense of humor.

They also said they'd kept in close touch with him, writing letters and making phone calls. July 17, they said, was the last time they talked with him over the phone.

In his letters, Gilbert said little about the conditions in Iraq, inquiring instead about friends and family back home, according to his mother.

"He never talked about what went on over there," she said. "He just wanted to know what was going on here."

Robert Gilbert said his son's letters often appeared to be written while troops were on the move.

"Some of the letters he wrote to us were on the back of a cardboard box," he said.

He said that he received a letter from Gilbert on Tuesday and that his son was in good spirits, and looking forward to returning home.

"But he sounded to me as if he had it in his head that he was going to be there a lot longer," he added, noting that his son's return was targeted for some time between January and April of next year.

Robert Gilbert said a massive extended family, in addition to lots of friends, were in mourning.

Robert Gilbert, who served with the Green Berets, said part of his son's motivation in joining the army was "to follow in my footsteps."

Regina Gilbert said he also wanted to fly.

"To jump out of planes was his dream," she said.

The Gilberts, as they reflected on their son's interests, noted his liking for cars -- they said worked on them for hours at a time -- along with a fondness for winter sports.

"Winter was really his favorite (season)," Regina Gilbert said, recalling her son's love of snowboarding and snowmobiling.

The Gilberts also described their son's keen interest in karate. They said he received a black belt by the time he was 12 and later won a host of awards. Robert Gilbert said his son studied with Denise Rouleau and Deborah Holley, at Rouleau-Holley TKD in Hinsdale, N.H.

"He was their first child student, and the first child with a black belt," he said.

Regina Gilbert recalled the way his interest blossomed.

"I used to work at a gym -- at the Brattleboro Nautilus -- years ago when he was 4 or 5, and I got to bring him a few times," she said.

She said her soon became enthralled by the karate classes at the former Elliot-Street gym.

"He ended up mimicking the moves, and the coaches noticed that about him," she said. Before long he was taking classes -- and soon he was a prodigy.

The Gilberts stressed the need for relatives and friends to keep in touch with people serving overseas -- and to do it with great frequency.

"If you have a son or daughter over there ... write to them," Regina Gilbert said. "Even if it's a postcard."

Robert Gilbert noted the importance of letters to his son, even when they didn't come from people all that close to him.

"He wanted anybody and everybody to write to him," he said. "And he wanted pictures."

Other residents also reflected on Gilbert's life, sometimes tearfully.

"He was a wonderful human being," said Wendy Brown, of Brattleboro. Brown said her son, Jordon Sorrell, had known Gilbert since junior high school and became close friends with him when the two were at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. Brown's son is still serving in Iraq.

Barbara Wauchope, who helped to start a support network of area mothers, implored local residents to remember families' struggles -- struggles, she said, that could easily slip out of view as news of the war drifts from the public eye.

"Most people have kind of forgotten that they're even there because the war is supposedly over," said Wauchope, a Brattleboro resident whose son Darren Cansler returned from serving in Iraq earlier this month.

U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders issued a written statement offering condolences to the family.

"With four deaths in Iraq, our small state has been hard hit by this war," he said. "Let us hope that Pvt. Gilbert's death is the last Vermont casualty, and that all Americans who are currently there can come home safely."

In a phone interview, Sanders added that reactions across the political spectrum tended to merge in the wake of a death.

"Everyone in Vermont grieves when a young person dies," he said.

According to Defense Department figures -- which extended through Friday morning -- 257 U.S. soldiers have died since the war began, including 119 since President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1. Gilbert is also the fourth Vermonter to die in the Iraq war.

Other Vermont servicemen killed in Iraq since fighting began include Army Sgt. Justin W. Garvey, 23, of Proctor: Marine Cpl. Mark A. Evnin, 21, of South Burlington and Army Chief Warrant Officer 4th Class Erik A. Halvorsen, 40, of Bennington.