36-year-old grandson of Ray Yarbrough dies during resupply mission -- Death in the family -- the war with Iraq hits home

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Ray Yarbrough, a long-time Green Forest resident, holds a picture of his grandson, SSgt. Tony Stever and his family. Stever was killed in Iraq on April 8 serving his country.

GREEN FOREST ---- The war in Iraq hit home hard for one Green Forest man who lost a family member in the battle.

In the morning hours of April 9, a day when the world saw scenes of jubilation on the streets of Baghdad, Ray Yarbrough received word that his 36-year-old grandson, SSgt. Tony Stever, had been killed in combat the day before.

Stever, he was told, was killed when the Army's 3rd Infantry Division pushed into Baghdad from the Baghdad Airport to resupply a battalion that had been fighting fiercely for seven hours.

Stever was driving the lead vehicle of a resupply convoy, when his armored personnel carrier was ambushed. When the Iraqi forces tried to envelop the convoy, Stever's efforts blunted the ambush and stopped the Iraqis. The ammunition and supplies were able to reach their destination.

Fellow soldiers recounted that Stever pushed one soldier out of the way of an incoming round, but then was unable to escape the round himself.

Because of his heroic action, many American soldiers lives were saved, officials say, and Stever will receive military honors.

"It's hard on the family," Yarbrough said. "The convoy got through. He saw the rocket coming and and shoved a buddy out of the the way and the grenade hit him. The convoy got through and saved the people pinned down. He was quite the boy, and we're real proud of him."

Yarbrough said he was unable to attend the funeral, which was held in Pendleton, Or.

"All my kids went," he remembered. "The townspeople wanted it in an auditorium, but the family wanted a small, private funeral. I was told that the community really turned out. On the way to the cemetery, people lined up along the roadside waving flags, standing with their hands over their hearts, and saluting. It was really something.

"At the burial site," he continued, "a three-star general presented his wife with the Bronze Star and said more awards would be presented later on."

Yarbrough said the last time he saw his grandson was at Christmas in 2002, when the family gathered at his son's home in Springfield, Mo.

"He was a step-grandson," Yarbrough noted. "My boy married his mother when he was about a year old. I knew him all his life. He was like a real grandson."

Stever left behind a wife and 10-year-old daughter. He was the son of David and Stella Yarbrough of Springfield, Mo.

He served as a mechanic in the Army for 12 years and had been stationed in Kansas, Germany, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Georgia.

He was deployed to Kuwait in October 2002 with the HHC company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Mechanized Infantry, 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

While in Kuwait, Stever was stationed at Camp New York, where he commanded a tank recovery unit. NBC reporter, David Bloom, was embedded with HHC company. During the Army's 3rd Infantry Division's push across the Iraqi desert, David Bloom was seen riding on and broadcasting from one M88 vehicle while Stever was commander the other M88 vehicle traveling alongside. The soldiers in Stever's unit all took a great liking to David Bloom and Bloom repaid their kindness by allowing them to use his satellite phone to call home.

Stever used Bloom's phone to call his wife on their tenth wedding anniversary. Bloom's broadcasts during the Iraqi sandstorms showed Stever and his crew working on a tank engine surrounded by orange skies.

On April 3, Stever called his family to tell how his M88 vehicle had been blown up by the Iraqi forces, but that he and his crew were not in the vehicle at the time and were unharmed.

On Sunday, April 6, following word of David Bloom's sudden death from a pulmonary embolism, the family received a report through the Battalion Commander that Stever and his unit had arrived safely at the newly renamed Baghdad International Airport. The report indicated they were using the airport facilities to clean off the desert sand.

Three days later, the family and a nation learned of his death.

The following day, Colonel Stephan Twitty, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, and long-time friend of Stever's, was featured on the NBC Today show to talk about the ambush and the heroic soldier who was killed in the line of duty serving his country.

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