By Brittany Nelson (IMCOM)September 27, 2018
SAINT HEDWIG, Texas -- Mary Todd woke up at 4 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2008, because something felt off.
She went on with her day and prepared a package for her deployed son, Sgt. 1st Class David Todd Jr. That afternoon she saw an Army vehicle pull up to her driveway, and two Soldiers walked up to her door to deliver the worst news she has ever heard.
Mary, her husband, David, and their daughter, Stephanie, have been a Gold Star Family since Aug. 20, 2008, when their son and brother was killed in action in Afghanistan.
Todd Jr. grew up loving the outdoors; he was constantly playing with his sister outside or riding his dirt bike. His interest in becoming a Soldier also started at childhood.
"He always liked the military and it was something he wanted to do. He liked the Army since he was a child, he wanted to be a Soldier," said Todd Sr., who served in the United States Air Force for four years.
The younger Todd's Army career began in 1991 when he enlisted. He was stationed at Fort Hood, where he taught helicopter rappelling, and later taught Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Tulane University in Louisiana while based at Fort Polk.
Todd Jr. also served in Operation Desert Storm on two deployments and finally served in Afghanistan, where he gave his life to save others.
Mary mentioned that Todd Jr. never talked about his missions with his family, but in August 2008 he sent his parents an email.
"Before his last battle he sent us an e-mail and he said something he had never talked about before. He said, 'Mom and Dad, I am going to be gone for a while; we're going on a dangerous mission and when I get back I'll call Dad and wish him a happy birthday.' Something about it just didn't feel right," Mary said.
Todd Jr. completed his mission and returned to base, but a second group of Soldiers that accompanied Todd and his group became stuck on their way back.
"They found out there were 12 men trapped, ambushed by the Taliban. Those 12 men couldn't get any air help because there were too many civilian Afghans in the village," Todd Sr. said.
Despite original disapproval from leadership, Todd Jr. created a rescue mission to help the trapped Soldiers. They traveled in their Humvee to reach the 12 Soldiers.
"Some of the trapped Soldiers said they were down to only a couple of bullets. They were so close they could see the eyes of the enemy. Then they saw Todd and knew everything was going to be okay. Despite being on a mission for two weeks, David went back and helped save the Soldiers," Mary said.
All 12 Soldiers were rescued and everyone headed back to base, but then Todd Jr.'s Humvee got trapped in a narrow pathway. They were attacked and began fighting. David gave it his all, but was killed in action after saving the Soldiers, his parents said.
"I never ever thought this would happen. He told us that he was going to retire after he got back from his last tour," Mary said.
Since David's passing, the Todds have become actively involved in the Gold Star community to honor their son and other fallen Soldiers.
Despite the devastating hardship the Todds live with every day, they continuously honor David with everything they do. David's name and story is in many places across the San Antonio area, including Rudy's Barbeque in Selma, Saint Hedwig City Hal,l and most recently through a bridge dedication on Jones Maltsberger Road.
"The more I share the story of David, he will never be forgotten and people will be aware of the sacrifices that they make, both the Soldier and the Families. Long after we are gone his name will still be out there and people will know about him," Mary said.
The Todds take part in many activities the Army's Survivor Outreach Services, or SOS, have hosted. Stephanie often honors her brother by running. She participated in the annual Run to Honor in Washington, D.C., in 2015 and the Fallen Boot run in Killeen, Texas, in 2014.
Stephanie continues to find ways to honor her brother despite living in a different state than her parents.
"I live in South Dakota and there isn't a big military presence and barely any Gold Star Families here. I work at a school and the kids have never heard about Gold Star Families. I am able to bring awareness. Last year, I brought the whole school together for an event to make crafts for kids in Gold Star Families going off to summer camp," she said.
The Todds were introduced to the Gold Star Mother and Family community soon after their son passed away. The Fort Sam Houston SOS office helped coordinate funeral arrangements for Todd Jr., and the Todds have been involved with the program since.
"It seemed liked the Todds were always there. They are one of the sweetest families you'll ever met. Mary was always there for the other parents and spouses, they would do things for each other," said Lori Dean, a previous SOS support coordinator at Fort Sam Houston.
Dean now works at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as a contracts program manager for the Army Reserve SOS program. She mentions that the Todds have the same personality as their son when it comes to helping.
"I am amazed at David and the stories I have heard, he had his parents' personality. They give back to whoever they can whenever they can. They want to honor their son," Dean said.
Mary keeps up keeps up with other Gold Star Mothers and Families in the community through Facebook. She explains that only a Gold Star Mother can understand what she has been through, and through their shared experience they help each other cope.
"The [Gold Star] mothers understand when I say today is a bad day, or I have been crying for a whole week. They are more understanding than if I had gone to a relative or a friend because they don't understand," Mary said. "We honor our fallen through so many holidays it makes it even more [emotionally] intense. We all just share the stories and our feelings and it's wonderful because they understand what we are talking about, we don't have to explain to them."
The Todds have also received an enormous amount of support from locals in the community and strangers worldwide. They have received multiple gifts in honor of David including hand-sewn quilts, picture collages, plaques, drawings and trinkets just to name a few. An entire room is filled with the thoughtful gifts, and the rest have overflown throughout their household.
"The amount of love from strangers has been overwhelming to me. The flag pole was given to us, a stone and a memorial tree. I think that says a lot about Americans and how they honor our military," Mary said.
Throughout the span of his military career, Sgt. 1st Class Todd earned the Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with "M" device, Noncommissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Action Badge, Air Assault Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge Bar, Driver-T (for tracked vehicles) Weapons Qualification Badge, Rifle Expert, and the Overseas Service Bar.