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Fort Drum remembers two fallen soldiers at ceremony Thursday


FORT DRUM — In the eyes of his mother, Sgt. Derek T. McConnell was a character, and one who loved his family deeply.

“He was full of life,” said Siobhan M. Fuller-McConnell. “Nobody could forget him.”

He stared down the dates of his younger sister. He marched a kid who disrespected his mother a mile to make him apologize. When she told him he was a hot mess, Ms. Fuller-McConnell said, her son replied “Well, Mom, at least I’m hot.”

Sgt. McConnell died suddenly on March 18, 20 months after suffering several major injuries in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device that threw him onto a second improvised explosive device. His mother said he was a few months away from coming home from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., when he died.

Sgt. McConnell was one of two 10th Mountain Division soldiers remembered on post Thursday during a ceremony at the installation’s Memorial Park. Also honored Thursday was Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox, who died July 22 in Landstuhl, Germany, after a non-combat related incident in Andar, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Maddox, 22, of the 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, was said to have thrived in the structure of the Army, yet had a soft-spoken style and a smile that could not be missed.

“He had that cheeky grin that would glow up at night,” said 1st Sgt. Mark W. Taylor, who spoke for Sgt. Maddox during the ceremony. “You didn’t need illumination; you didn’t need flares. You had Sgt. Maddox’s smile.”

The only time his demeanor changed was on the football field, his stepfather, Ronald C. Key, said, where he lined up in multiple positions on the defense of Nederland High School, Port Arthur, Texas, earning the nickname “Mad Dog.”

In the two months since his death, Glenda F. Key, Sgt. Maddox’s mother, said she most wanted to remember her son’s voice, and the memories of him as a small boy, playing with his toy Army men in the tub.

“He’d stick them in the soap,” she explained, which he then moved to the other side of the tub where they were safe.

As a soldier, Sgt. Maddox was described by Sgt. Taylor as highly motivated to become a drill sergeant and help younger soldiers, downloading copies of instructional materials to help him become a better leader.

When not doing his main job as a petroleum supply specialist, he could also be seen helping in the dining facility and other areas of his base.

“He was always a pillar to lean on,” Sgt. Taylor said. “Through thick and thin, he was the type of person that would always be there.”

Mr. and Mrs. Key said Sgt. Maddox hoped to make a full career in the Army.

Sgt. McConnell, 23, of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, was given little chance of survival by doctors for months after the July 23, 2011, attack. Among his injuries were amputations of both legs and his right hand, fractures of his skull and jaw, and a series of internal injuries and infections.

However, as the months went on, his condition improved.

Even before he could fully talk, Ms. Fuller-McConnell said, her son made her and other family members smile through facial expressions or a computer that read what he typed, turning what could have been a somber recovery room into what nurses jokingly referred to as the “party room.”

“Every day we laughed,” she said. Thousands of miles away, his fellow soldiers would watch videos tracking his recovery, something unit member 1st Sgt. William R. Collins called his company’s “brightest and best days.”

Things were looking set for Sgt. McConnell’s departure from Walter Reed. His condition was improving. He was engaged to his girlfriend, Krystina Dressler, and they won an online contest supplying $80,000 for a wedding.

In early March, Ms. Fuller-McConnell said, Sgt. McConnell was admitted to the emergency room complaining of pain. On the morning of March 18, his fiancee found him dead in the hospital.

Ms. Fuller-McConnell said an investigation is underway to find out what happened. So close to his being able to leave the hospital, Sgt. McConnell’s death was tough for his mother to comprehend.

“He was coming home,” she said.

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