As the clouds masked the sun on a gloomy Saturday morning, Southeast Texans attempted to shine some light on a dark and somber mood by displaying their American flags as a sign of respect and support for Sgt. Anthony Maddox and his family at the Port Arthur soldier’s funeral at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Beaumont.
Maddox, 22, of Port Arthur, was killed Monday, July 22, in a work-related fuel explosion in Afghanistan that left him burned over 97 percent of his body.
All eyes were on Maddox’s family as they filed into the church Aug. 3 to say goodbye to their son and mourn their loss. Military officials escorted the family in as civic leaders turned out to show their support and honor Maddox for his sacrifice.
“I’m so proud of the Southeast Texas community for showing so much support to this family,” said Port Arthur Mayor Bobbie Prince, as she wiped the tears from her face with a tissue.
Patriot Guard Riders, Vietnam veterans, and others who had never met Maddox took time out of their Saturday morning to honor the fallen soldier. Thomas and Glenda Sherman, both Nederland natives, never knew Maddox personally, but felt it was important to show their gratitude for the soldier and his family.
“It’s all about honor,” Thomas said. “Knowing the risk (soldiers face) and what they might be going into, it just makes their sacrifice that much more amazing. If they can do that then we can spend part of our time … take part of our day to honor them.”
“I wanted to show support for the family,” Glenda said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Hundreds of Southeast Texans showed up early Friday morning, Aug. 2, to watch the procession of bikers, police and other emergency personnel escort the hearse carrying Maddox’s body along the route past Nederland High School where Maddox played linebacker for the Bulldogs.
“The turnout from the community was amazing; I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” said Jacob Orta, a friend of Maddox who played junior varsity football with him. “I expected it to be big, but I didn’t expected to be as big as it was.”
Orta was at the airport when the plane arrived and described it as a silent and somber scene, but patriotic as well.
“Everyone was really respectful,” he said. “I saw people he probably never even knew crying on the side of the road and people he did know crying on the side of the road. It lets the troops know that this community stands behind them.”
Orta said his brother, who serves in the Army as well, helped prepare Maddox for what he could expect in basic training and Army life.
“He always asked my brother (Justin Orta) how the military was, what kind of leave they got and what kind of job he should choose,” Orta said. “He told him what kind of shape he needed to be in.”
Dena Foust, a teacher at Nederland High School, said she remembers seeing Maddox walk the halls of the school. She looked on with tear-filled eyes as the procession passed her and her eight-year-old grandson, Blaine, as they stood on the side of 18th Street waiting for the hearse to pass to show their respects, American flags in hand.
“I just want to thank his family for raising such a wonderful son who was dedicated as a Nederland Bulldog and as a soldier,” Foust said. “Sometimes we take our freedoms for granted. It’s sad when something like this happens, but it makes us come together and think. Just seeing the flags and the people come together, it’s a feeling of sadness, but also of pride.”
Cody Wade, a five-year friend of Maddox, said he was surprised when Maddox first told him he wanted to join the Army, but later Maddox told him he loved it and wanted to make a career out of it.
“He was just a real good person to have in your life,” Wade said. “It kind of hit me by surprise when he told me he wanted to join the Army. I thought it was a really good thing for him.”
Wade said he thought it was just a rumor at first when he heard about his friend’s death on Facebook until he saw the news report that night on television.
“I was really beside myself,” he said. “It hurt bad. I was at a friend’s house, and we all three used to hang out (with Maddox). We all broke down.”
Judge Terrence Holmes, Beaumont city magistrate, was at Jack Brooks Airport Friday and described the scene of the family watching their son’s coffin being unloaded from the plane that brought him from New England to Nederland.
“It was very emotional to see the family break down when they saw the coffin for the first time,” he said. “The last time they saw their son he was alive. It was emotional for the family and the onlookers. He made the ultimate sacrifice.” The least we can do is support someone who has laid down their life so we can enjoy our freedom.”
Prince asked the community to continue to show their support for the family in their time of grieving.
“They are a beautiful family,” Prince said. “They need prayer more than anything else. We can’t bring their son back, but we can pray for them.”
Maddox, who was up for promotion to the rank of sergeant before his death, was promoted posthumously, according to Julie Cupernall, public affairs officer at Fort Drum, N.Y. He was laid to rest in Houston National Cemetery on Saturday, Aug. 3.
— Clay Thorp contributed to this article.