2013-12-20 / Front Page

SOS holds holiday ceremony

By Bonnie Heater
Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office


Military spouses Jennie Hope and Theresa Thipgen display ornaments received during the Dec. 10 Survivor Outreach Services gathering at Freedom Park. They received ornaments in memory of their husbands; Staff Sgt. Rodney Hope, who served three tours in Vietnam; and Master Sgt. Thomas R. Thigpen, who died while serving at Camp Virginia, in Kuwait. 
Photo by Bill Bengtson, Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office Military spouses Jennie Hope and Theresa Thipgen display ornaments received during the Dec. 10 Survivor Outreach Services gathering at Freedom Park. They received ornaments in memory of their husbands; Staff Sgt. Rodney Hope, who served three tours in Vietnam; and Master Sgt. Thomas R. Thigpen, who died while serving at Camp Virginia, in Kuwait. Photo by Bill Bengtson, Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office Fort Gordon Survivor Outreach Services hosted their annual Holiday Remembrance ceremony 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at Freedom Park on post.

Karen Lewis, a Fort Gordon Army Community Services SOS support specialist, joined the younger SOS family members in placing a wreath at the Survivor Outreach Services monument.

Suzanne Crosby, the ACS Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator, read the SOS Christmas Wreath poem. “The circle is the first known shape in human history,” Crosby said. “It is believed to have divine powers since it has no beginning and no ending.”


Trey Tilby, 8, receives an ornament bearing the image of his late father, Sgt. 1st Class Larry Tilby Jr., who was based at Fort McPherson, in East Point, Ga. Presenting the ornament is Carla Smith, a support coordinator with Survivor Outreach Services, during a SOS gathering Dec. 10 at Freedom Park. 
Photo by Bill Bengtson, Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office Trey Tilby, 8, receives an ornament bearing the image of his late father, Sgt. 1st Class Larry Tilby Jr., who was based at Fort McPherson, in East Point, Ga. Presenting the ornament is Carla Smith, a support coordinator with Survivor Outreach Services, during a SOS gathering Dec. 10 at Freedom Park. Photo by Bill Bengtson, Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office “Holiday wreaths bring a sense of cheer, warmth, and nostalgia to our homes and communities,” she added. “The evergreen branches of the wreath represent growth and promise ... The holiday wreath being laid by the SOS monument today [Dec. 10] is a symbol of the everlasting relationship between Survivor Outreach Services, the United States Army, and all survivors of our fallen heroes.”

The Fort Gordon SOS team reminded the survivors their fallen loved ones would never be forgotten and that they would never be alone.

Each survivor family received a specially designed ornament created by Lewis and Crosby to hang on the holiday tree at home. Chaplain (Maj.) Raynard Churchwell, the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade chaplain, led with the benediction and the closing of the ceremony. Survivors, advanced individual training Soldiers with B Company, 73rd Ordnance Battalion, key members of the Fort Gordon and local community made up the group gathered for the ceremony.

One of the survivors, a mother, Evelyn Suarez, lost her daughter, Spc. Hilda Clayton, this year in Afghanistan. “She was my baby, age 20, and Hilda was a combat photographer,” Suarez said. “She was taking a photo of some equipment, which was not expected to explode, but it did. I miss her. Hilda was due to return in March 2014 before this happened.”

Two other survivors’ husbands died after years of suffering due to complications following exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Catherine Winbush, wife of the late Sgt. John Winbush, and Jutta Smith, the spouse of the now deceased Master Sgt. Henry Smith, were among several family members attending the holiday remembrance ceremony.

Smith, not only lost her husband, but recently a longtime companion, her dog Jack.

“My husband suffered for years, before they discovered his health problems were related to Agent Orange,” said Winbush.”He served two tours in Vietnam. I lost him to lung cancer.”

“This is my fourth year attending the SOS holiday remembrance ceremony,” she added. “My husband and I have nine children and each year I attend, I give the holiday ornament to one of our children. Every time I attend an SOS program I learn a different way to cope with the loss.”

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