By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — It was a proud moment for Karistopher Gadsden and his family.
The South Effingham senior attended the NFL Draft in Las Vegas on April 29 and had a spot on stage just before the Atlanta Falcons’ second-round draft pick was announced.
The Falcons, in conjunction with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a national non-profit veterans service organization, were honoring Karistopher’s father Clifford Gadsden, who died in action in Iraq exactly 17 years ago.
Karistopher’s grandmother, Minerva Gadsden, announced the Falcons’ pick — Penn State linebacker Arnold Ebiketie.
“It was all kind of unreal,” Karistopher said.
Over the years, the Gadsden family has kept the memory of Clifford Valentino Gadsden Jr. alive, even to the point of keeping his prized car, a Crown Victoria, in running shape.
Karistopher said the family has cookouts and holds events to honor a man who had reached the rank of U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant.
Clifford Gadsden led a convoy from Baghdad to Kuwait when the convoy was struck by a roadside bomb, Karistopher said. Clifford Gadsden died when Karistopher was only 18 months old.
“I don’t think he had to go on the convoy, but he wanted to be with his men,” Karistopher said.
There was a time when Karistopher didn’t want to talk about the incident that reshaped his life, but says TAPS has helped him understand it. When he was 6 or 7 years old, he attended a camp in Washington, D.C., where he had a chance to meet and share feelings with about 600 kids who had also lost a loved one in combat.
“When I was way younger, it affected me more because I didn’t know how to deal with it,” Karistopher said. “It was difficult to adjust until I went (to camp) with TAPS. Then I was able to settle with it and understand my emotions.”
Karistopher said he met former U.S. President Barack Obama and had a chance to check out Arlington National Cemetery. Karistopher has been to Atlanta Falcons games with TAPS. Now he can add an NFL draft and shaking hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We waited behind the stage until they called us and Roger Goodell talked about my father and the crowd started chanting, “USA, USA, USA.” That was pretty cool,” Karistopher said.
Clifford Gadsden would have appreciated the moment. He loved sports. He played football at Choctaw High School in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., before attending South Carolina State University. In college, he joined the ROTC, then joined the Army.
Karistopher says friends and family say he looks just like his father. Karistopher is also sports minded. He ran cross country and track and played soccer at SEHS.
In a few weeks, Karistopher will graduate with honors. He said he took some advanced placement classes and had a 3.7 grade-point average.
His goal is to attend the University of Central Florida and he may follow his father’s military footsteps and join the Air Force with hopes of becoming a pilot.
Karistopher said he’s always been proud of his father. With good reason.
“(Friends) say he was very charismatic, always smiling,” Karistopher said. “He was a leader and everyone liked him. We still get calls today (saying) it was great to serve with (Clifford Gadsden).”