EUSTIS - The legacy of a fallen Army hero from Eustis will live on through the naming of a section of County Road 44 dedicated by the Lake County Board of County Commissioners and the city of Eustis.
Pfc. Derek Arthur Gibson was killed in action on April 4, 2007, at the age of 20 by an improvised explosive device during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In honor of Gibson, the county named a two-mile stretch of County Road 44 between County Road 452 and S. Fish Camp Road as "Pfc. Derek Arthur Gibson Memorial Highway."
"This road will now serve as a constant reminder of the bravery, valor, and sacrifice that its namesake embodied," said Lake County Commission Chairman Leslie Campione, who gave remarks during the ceremony.
Eustis native Cpl. Keith Totten, who went before the commission to ask them to rename the road, said it was the perfect way to honor the ultimate sacrifice that Gibson made.
"I've worn Derek's memorial bracelet as a reminder of our past, our brotherhood and that of ultimate sacrifice for God, country and family," Totten said.
Gibson's brother, Dustin Gibson, said his younger brother loved Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live and said he couldn’t wait to share stories about Uncle Derek to his young daughters.
"I have two daughters that understand Uncle Derek was an Army man and that he's now in heaven. They love to hear stories about when their dad and Uncle Derek were little boys. When they get older there'll be more stories to tell them about when Uncle Derek was not a little boy, but a very brave soldier that was doing a job, not just anyone can do," Dustin Gibson said.
Gibson’s sister, Shannon Race, also shared fond memories of her brother along with personal stories.
"Derek would have never guessed he'd make this kind of impact on our community when he chose his path 13 years ago," Race said, describing her brother affectionately known as “Gibby” as selfless and genuine.
Gibson was honored with a Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.
Lake County Commissioner and retired brigadier general Tim Sullivan introduced the presentation of the colors performed by the MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard and the Patriot Guard Riders assembled their "War on Terrorism Memorial Wall," which features Pfc. Gibson's name along with the names of thousands of other fallen veterans.
“These are always solemn occasions but I really appreciate each and every one of you,” Sullivan said.
Before the crowd of Gibson’s family and friends, dignitaries, veterans and perfect strangers who came to pay their respects, Lake County commissioners along with Eustis Mayor Michael Holland unveiled the road sign for the "Pfc. Derek Arthur Gibson Memorial Highway.”
"We, as a community, should be very proud of every man and woman that wears the uniform of this great country. That's what continues to make us great, and that's what will keep us great if we continue to stand up as one country and to move along as a people that believe in a God and a philosophy that has lasted way over 200 years," Mayor Holland said.
After the ceremony, a procession along the memorial highway was led the Eustis Police Department and the Patriot Guard Riders.