Robert C. Thornton, Jr. – Sergeant, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

No. 823-04

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Staff Sergeant Robert C. Thornton Jr., 35, of Rainbow City, Alabama, died August 23, 2004, in Aghdad, Iraq, when his patrol came under rocket-propelled grenade attack. Thornton was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

The incident is under investigation.

From a contemporary press report:

Soldier from Rainbow City killed in Iraq

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Staff Sergeant Robert C. “Robbie” Thornton Jr. grew up to be a soldier.

The son of a retired Lieutenant Colonel, Thornton “absolutely loved” being a soldier and planned to make the military his career, said his brother, Mark Thornton, in a telephone interview from the family home in Guntersville.

Robbie Thornton’s career was cut short Monday. He was killed when his patrol in Baghdad came under rocket-propelled grenade attack, according to a Department of Defense release. Thornton, 35, had been on active duty for 12 years and served in Operation Desert Storm as a Reservist before going on active duty.

“He was just a very fun-loving guy. He wore his heart on his sleeve,” Mark Thornton said as he remembered his brother. “He took good care of his family and took good care of his soldiers. His soldiers always loved him.”

Thornton grew up in north Alabama, mostly in the Guntersville area, graduated from Jacksonville High School and attended Jacksonville State University before joining the Army. His father, Robert Thornton Sr., is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and past president of the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

Robbie Thornton was living at Fort Hood, Texas, with his wife, Ellen, and children, Bradley, 5, and Breanna, 2, when he was sent to Iraq several months ago. He was a member of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Mark Thornton said his brother had no regrets about fighting for his country in Iraq.

“He was excited about being there,” he said.

Mark Thornton said military officials came to his father’s house in Guntersville at about 8 p.m. Monday to inform the family that Robbie Thornton had been killed in Iraq.

Mark Thornton said his brother had tried to call home a couple of weeks ago.

“He just left us a message. That was the last we heard from him,” Mark Thornton said.

Before going to Fort Hood, Robbie Thornton had worked for three years as an Army recruiter in Albertville. Mark Thornton said his brother had no plans to get out of the Army.

“His plans were to stick with the military until they kicked him out,” Mark Thornton said.

He said funeral arrangements for his brother are incomplete, but there will be a service at the Church of the Epiphany in Guntersville and the family is working to make arrangements for him to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Besides his wife, children and father, Robbie Thornton is survived by his mother, Dominique Thornton of Belen, New Mexico; five brothers and sisters, Mark and Lief Thornton of Guntersville, Scott Thornton of Denver, Colorado, Jan Thornton of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and Dr. Charlotte Thornton of Newport News, Virginia.

The last time Domi Chavez heard from her son, Army Staff Sergeant Robert C. Thornton Jr., he said he was safe.

So when the National Guard officer knocked on her door in Rio Communities on Monday, she was not prepared for the news that her son had died from wounds he received in an attack in Baghdad.

“He said, ‘Not to worry Mom, I’m safe as safe can be,” Chavez said of her last conversation with Thornton two months ago. “I never thought out of the 100,000 troops in Iraq that my son would be killed.”

Thornton was among three Task Force Baghdad soldiers who were wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their patrol on Monday, August 23, 2004. The three wounded soldiers were transported to a military hospital where Thornton died of his wounds.

“He said he was safe because he had a computerized tank protecting him,” Chavez said of her son who was a tank commander deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, with the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. “He was getting out of the tank when he got hit.”

This was Thornton’s second tour of duty in the Middle East. He also served in Desert Storm during his 12 years of service in the Army.

The Veguita native remembers her son’s patriotic pride. “He said, ‘You don’t realize what it is to be an American until you come out here and see this.'”

Thornton graduated from high school in Leesburg, Alabama, and, after two years of college at Jacksonville State University, he followed in the footsteps of his father and brothers and joined the military.

His father was an Army colonel and had served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. His brothers were Navy S.E.A.L. and an Army infantryman.

After 9/11, Chavez said her son was angry. When he was deployed to Iraq, he told his mother they were going to get the bad guys.

“I’m just numb,” Chavez said of her reaction to the news of Thornton’s death. “I just never thought it would happen.”

Chavez recalls her son’s sense of humor by telling a story from his childhood.

“When we were stationed in Germany, his father would take his brother, Scott, to Scotland to hunt. One day Robby asked when would he get to go, and I told him when he was 12,” she said. “He then said, ‘When I’m 12, I’m going hunting in Robbyland.”

On the more serious side, Chavez said, “He was a peacemaker. When others would be fussing, he’d try to settle them down.”

Thornton is survived by his wife, Ellen Bradley, and two children, ages 7 and 2. They reside at Fort Hood, Texas.

A service has been held in Baghdad and others are planned at Fort Hood and in Alabama, with burial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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