Living Memorial for Higgins Tanner Stone

Submitter’s Name: Sara Overal
The Service Member’s Name: Higgins Tanner Stone
Branch of Service: Army
Rank: Sergeant
Military Job: Team Leader, Operation Enduring Freedom
Unit: 1/75th Ranger Regiment, D-Co
Years Deployed: 2008-2012
Theater: Afghanistan
Hometown for Service Member: Yantis, TX

In front of a warm fire on a chilly afternoon, I sat with a truly amazing woman, Patti Sells. Patti is one of our nation’s beloved Gold Star Mothers. A woman who reflects such grace while not only living with the loss of a son, but also with a recent cancer diagnosis and a continual regimen of chemotherapy treatments. Patti is also a single mother, real estate professional and an icon of civic engagement in her community of Sulphur Springs, Texas. Our interview and time of fellowship proves once again that parents of a Fallen Hero display some of the most powerful traits of strength that I have ever witnessed.

The interview began with an introduction by Patti of her son, Sgt. Tanner Stone Higgins, 1/75th Ranger Regiment. The introductions of this fine man continued until we reached joyful laughter at the “fun” times that Tanner and Patti shared together.

Tanner was born on January 31st 1989 in Irving, Texas and Patti confirmed with pride that Texas was Tanner’s “home of record,” calling Sulphur Springs, Texas home.

I began our discussion by asking Patti which age Tanner she wanted me to know about most. After thinking for a bit, Patti remarked, “a young man. As a soldier. Of course, it starts earlier than that. Like Terry Burgess has said (Texas Gold Star Father of Bryan Burgess), September 11th [2001] was a very poignant time. Growing up, Tanner loved playing football and paintball. Doing the military crawl and playing Army started very young, but after 9-11, it became very serious. He was all in. Everyone knew it. I knew it. His teachers knew it. Interestingly, his uncle lives in New York and we had just been there the previous year which I believe added to Tanner’s drive that this will never happen again on our turf. I will never forget his senior year. It seemed like many of his older friends and classmates who had joined various branches of the Military seemed somewhat bored. They came home on leave telling him to join the Army if he really wanted to see action. I just had to support him in his decision. I have no doubt that Tanner wanted to avenge what happened on American soil.”

Patti said if she had to describe her son with one word it would be “DETERMINED [and] even though he was small in stature, his senior year of high school he set his mind on being the starting safety for the Wildcat football team. With lots of dedication and hard work over the summer, he accomplished that goal. Tanner carried that type of determination into his Military career, setting his sights on becoming one of America’s elite Army Rangers.” According to Patti, he had the mentality of “jump-on-board or get-out-of-my-way.” She adds, “Nothing was going to stop him.”
Tanner served five tours by the age of 23, the year he was Killed-in-Action in the Logar Province of Afghanistan. He was extremely proud to be an Army Ranger, whose 3-4 month tours are shorter than the standard Army tours of 12-18 months. “They go over, get the job done against high profile targets and get back,” his mother explained. “I felt like I was holding my breath while he was gone. I was fortunate enough to ALWAYS have him home with me at Christmas. Always. God made a way for that every year. I am so grateful for that.”

Patti’s middle son Dillon was at Basic Training in Ft. Benning, Ga. in 2012 when Tanner was killed. He also went on to become an Army Ranger, serving 4 years and two tours of duty. And now, her youngest boy Noah, 16, has expressed a desire to follow in both his brothers’ footsteps. “I sure don’t want him to go, but I will support what ever decision he makes. Just as I did his brothers,” Patti said.

What gives Patti solace, was Tanner’s unwavering belief in God and that the American military’s work on foreign soil was, and continues to be necessary. “Tanner always believed in what he was doing,” she said. “His love for the Lord was instrumental in helping others begin their walk in faith. He was often picked to say prayers. He thought about being a Chaplain, but decided he would do better reaching others just as he was. Tanner wasn’t perfect, but I am so happy to know that he brought quite a few people to the Lord.”

Delving further into this remarkable interview, an amazing story about the love of family and the close relationship of a mother and her son unfolded. Patti was working as the Society Editor and Feature Writer for the Sulphur Springs News Telegram when Tanner graduated high school in 2007 and went straight to Basic Training at Ft. Benning.

“At that time, there was trouble with my marriage to Tanner’s Stepfather and I tried my best to keep it from him,” she explained. “I did not want him to worry. He found out towards the end of AIT (Advanced Infantry Training), and then after he had made it through the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) and my divorce had become final, he asked me if I wanted to get a fresh start and go with him. That was the sweetest thing.”

According to Patti, Ranger Battalion is made up of three regiments: 1/75 located in Savannah, Ga, 2/75 located in Seattle, Washington and 3/75 at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga. “I loved the idea of going to Savannah and living on the East Coast,” recalled Patti. Tanner, however, soon got his orders sending him to 2/75 in Washington. “He said ‘Will you still go with me?’ I was a bit disappointed, and holding on to hope, said ‘The Army makes mistakes all the time. I bet there’s just been a mix up,’ Patti remembered. Three days later, Tanner called saying, “Mom you are not going to believe this. The Army made a mistake. I’m going to Savannah!”

Patti quit her job of 8 years at the newspaper, packed up 9-year-old Noah and their belongings and joined her oldest son in Savannah, Ga. “My friends and family thought I was crazy and couldn’t believe I was moving 980 miles across the country,” Patti remembers. “But I felt so compelled to go….and I’m so glad that I did. I had 3 more years with Tanner. And I have no regrets. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Living in a tiny 700 square foot apartment just outside of Savannah on Tybee Island while Tanner lived nearby on base at Hunter Army Airfield was an experience of a lifetime,” according to Patti. “I wasn’t just a connection to home for him, I was home,” she said. “It really deepened our relationship.”

As this tranquil-setting lead to more happy tales of time together in Georgia, Patti and I ultimately began to discuss that fateful day: Patti hearing from Military officials about the death of her son: “It was a Saturday. I just happened to be off work that day. Noah was on Spring Break on a cruise with his father in Florida. He was due home the next day, Sunday. I was getting ready to go out to take pictures in Savannah.

There was a knock on the door. I opened it and saw a man in uniform. Thinking Tanner must be there to surprise me, I eagerly looked past the man and around the corner, expecting to see Tanner on the stairs behind him. Instead, I saw another man in uniform. It was then that I melted onto the floor saying ‘No, No, No’ over and over again. I heard them talking as if from a well, but I had no idea what they were saying. It felt like the blood had drained from me. The nightmare began,” she said with tears in her eyes. “It felt like I was looking at an old movie. You know how it’s in blips? I was in denial for the first two years, thinking he was actually recruited to the CIA and on assignment like the Jason Bourne movies he loved so much. It was a long process for me, and maybe believing that saved me.”

Noah and Patti stayed in Georgia another two years as Dillon moved up through the ranks also with the 1/75th Ranger Regiment stationed in Savannah. Patti moved back to Texas in July of 2014 with Dillon following after the completion of his military service in May of 2015. Her cancer diagnosis came the following month. “As a woman of faith, I just rebuke it. I am not in denial, I just know my God is bigger than cancer. I trust The Lord,” Patti explained. “People often wonder how I’m able to do that since Tanner was taken from me. I say that his story was already written.”

[Patti recites from memory] Psalms 139:16:
You saw me growing in my mother’s womb. Every detail of my life was already written in Your book; You established the length of my life before I ever tasted the sweetness of it.

After asking Patti for further insight and/or advice, she answered, “Be specific in your prayers. God has healed me and saved me on several occasions. He has brought me so far; from comforting me in my darkest days after losing Tanner, to untangling a football-size cancerous tumor from my aorta, and so many other miracles in my life.” With a beautiful smile, Patti adds, “Even if it is my time to go, look where I am going!

I asked Patti what she expects Tanner will say to her when they see each other again. She answered, “No words will be necessary, just a big hug and to see that big Texas grin! We are both adventurous so I know He will be very excited to show me everything in Heaven!”
Patti believes the best thing that she can do for her boys is to show them the love of God and instill the importance of a daily relationship with Him; keeping Him at the forefront of all their thoughts and actions.

After seeing a sticker displaying both a Gold and Blue Star on Patti’s car, I asked her how she feels about being categorized a Gold and Blue Star Mother: “I would feel better if more people knew what it is,” she laughed. “Of course, I was someone who didn’t know either, until I became one.” [Joyfully], Patti recalls a stranger leaving a kind note on the window of her car after seeing the sticker. “It meant the world to me!”

With great love for America and the founding principals of this nation, she still hopes for more awareness from today’s generation of the sacrifices made by men and women in service and their families. “When I received Tanner’s folded flag and the words “On behalf of a grateful nation…” were spoken to me. Sadly, I didn’t feel this nation as a whole was grateful and I hope to God that will change,” she emphasized. “So many in society are oblivious of the sacrifices made so that they can have the freedoms and privileges they enjoy on a daily basis. Too much of the general public feel entitled and take things for granted. It makes me sad.”

However, lack of patriotism was not the case when Tanner’s body was flown home. “I’ve never been so proud to be from East Texas,” said Patti recalling semi trucks and all manner of vehicles coming to a halt on Interstate 30 and across four counties as the procession traveled to his resting place. “Farmers stopped in their fields, business men and women came out of their offices, children were released from their classrooms and held handmade signs along the curbs, banners were draped across every bridge. The streets were lined with people for more than 60 miles.”
According to Patti, the most beautiful sight was when they traveled across Lake Fork where Tanner was raised and had recently married a hometown girl a short 6 months prior to his death. “The lake was dotted with fishermen on their boats holding American flags as two speedboats on both sides escorted us across the bridge,” Patti remembered. “I was extremely proud of our community. It was absolutely amazing. Thousands of people. Just beautiful.”

In spite of the ups and downs of life, Patti continues to stay positive and focus on the good things in life. “Life is just hard,” she admitted. “God never promised us that it would be easy. I keep going back to trust. I think about war and the constant fighting and how hard life has been and IS to this day. People think I am fighting for my life right now. But I am in a place of rest. The battle is His (God’s). I’m just trusting God through it all like I always have.”

Concluding our interview, I asked Patti for additional thoughts. She responded, “God’s son was a sacrifice. My son was a sacrifice. When I say ‘I want to live a life worthy of his sacrifice. I mean both of them, Jesus and Tanner. They both died for something way bigger than themselves. I’m just so thankful to have them both in my life.



For more information about the Tanner Stone Higgins Memorial Fun and Warrior Run and the “Remembrance of Tanner Higgins” FaceBook page, please follow these links:

Tanner Stone Higgins Remembrance Facebook Page: