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Robert Stokely remembers

Posted By Uncle Jimbo • [August 25, 2009]

It was a pleasure to meet Robert Stokely and as soon as I get my work obligations in order I will have some video of the event memorializing his son on the anniversary of his death. He marks another solemn date with the following piece.

August is a particularly difficult month around our house especially August 16 and  the 11 days that came after.  August 8, 2005 was the last phone call and chance I got to speak to Mike before he was killed a week later.  We gather at Mike's grave at 1820 hours on August 15 to Remember Mike at the time it was here in Georgia when he was killed near Yusufiyah in the early morning hours of August 16.  It is amazing how so many still come to be with us and there are always new ones in the crowd, and of course, as is going to happen, some are not there that have been.  This year several of our regulars were serving in Afghanistan.  And the family of SFC Mark Allen were not there because he was seriously wounded July 8, 2009 in Afghanistan.  Mark served with Mike in Iraq and he and wife Shannon had not missed a time at the annual gathering on August 15 at Mike's grave.  Mark's future and that of his family is now uncertain as he battles a serious brain injury from gunshot wound.  As we gathered a few days ago, we remembered him, wife Shannon, son Cody (12) and one year old baby daughter Journey.
 
Two of Mike's good friends from high school and college and who joined the National Guard because he joined and talked them into it are with Delta Company 1st Battalion of the 121st Infantry, 48th Brigade Georgia Army National Guard.  SGT Charles "Chuck" Crowder and SGT Alden Williams now serve somewhere in the eastern part of Afghanistan (actual location not mentioned for OPSEC reasons).  They were supposed to be together this deployment but the Army had a different idea and they are split up.  Last deployment to Iraq when Mike went they were all three in different units because they wanted it that way to help increase the chances at least one of them made it home.  I used to watch the "Moon over Yusufiyah" as I called it when Mike was serving south of Baghdad four years ago.  Now, with Chuck and Alden in Afghanistan, I think of them as I watch the "Moon over Yusufiyah" rise over my home at night.  They couldn't be there this year on August 15 but they called and they sent wishes through their family, including Alden's sister and mom who came.  Chuck's wife, Capt. Donita Crowder and their two daughters, Destiny (Mike's goddaughter and Charlye Mikalya (Mikalya after Mike) couldn't be there because Capt. Crowder is in train-up to go to Iraq early 2010 and the girls are staying with her mother, a retired U.S. Navy Veteran. 
 
They know how sharp the point of the sword is, but yet they, along with Mark Allen and his family, continued to serve even in the wake of their dear friend Mike's death.  
 

Last Saturday, August 22, I reflected on the Memorial Service we held to Remember and Honor Mike before he came home and at which I gave his eulogy. I was at the Freedom Concert hosted by Sean Hannity and honestly, it was difficult for me to stay as they continually honored the fallen - it was a day that was too wrought with emotion maybe to be there for that.  I thought of the service four years ago and my eulogy of Mike.   I don't do prepared speeches, rather I speak from the heart.  I generally speak so from the heart that I don't even usually know what I say afterwards, and August 22, 2005 was certainly that day as I was laden with grief.  I had to go back and look at the video to be able to know what I said that day,  But, I got through it at his Memorial Service.

 
Today, as I sit here on August 24, 2009, I am reflecting on being at the International Airport in Atlanta, just 30 miles up the road from where I live - four years ago.  At this moment and time of 1800 hours , I had just met Mike as they uncrated his casket in the U.S. Airways Air Cargo Hanger and neatly draped and cornered an American Flag over him.  As they did this, I saluted as best I knew how, given I never served in the military and had never been taught how.  I held my salute until they put Mike in the rear of the hearse.  Tears dripped down my cheeks and onto my navy blue blazer as I stood in the doorway from the Air Cargo Office to the unloading bay in the warehouse.  They wouldn't let me go out there because they were concerned about my safety with moving equipment and also, because they weren't sure how I "would handle it."  As I saluted and cried, the office staff froze, suddenly realizing what I was there for and what was going on outside their office as they too could see through the window to the warehouse.  The warehouse staff came to a stop as they realized what was happening.  I could feel their stares of disbelief and wondering what "to do."   
 
As I ended my salute, I walked outside to call my wife Retta, who loved Mike like one of her own.  He was the reason we met and had been there every step of our courtship and marriage, including being in our wedding.  It was at our wedding that he gave me - us - our favorite memory of him, and it was a story I told in my eulogy of him at the Memorial Service.  As Retta answered the phone, my voice quivering and tears still streaming down my cheeks, I simply said "Our boy is home."  Then we cried together.  The death of a child can be hard on a marriage.  For us, we had never been us without him.  While we have become even closer, we feel this sense of incompleteness now that Mike is dead, for again, we had never been just us without him and we literally are missing a piece of ourselves.
 
Now, as I write this paragraph at 1811 hours, August 24, 2005, I think back to being in the hearse, Mike's Flag Draped Casket just inches behind me as we rode up I-285 to the Stone Mountain Freeway to head out to Snellville GA to the Funeral Home for the night.  Snellville is just eight or so miles west of Loganville on U.S. 78 and we had not announced Mike coming in on August 24, because the city of Loganville, where Mike went to high school, his mom and wife Niki lived and where Mike was to be buried, wanted to have the chance to show their respect for him with a Welcome Home Mike parade, which they, along with the City of Snellville, did a great job with less than 24 hours notice on August 25.   Thus, the word went out over night that Mike would be "coming home on August 25." 
 
Unlike today where the Flag Draped Casket of the Fallen is flown by non-commercial charter to the nearest local airport with advance notice, our family was given but two hours notice that Mike was coming in commercial flight to Atlanta.  The United States Army treated us real good in the 12 days and after, but the one place that it went really bad due to the coarseness of one particular General.  I was refused access to the flight information so I could come fly home with Mike on the same regularly scheduled commercial U.S. Airways flight at my own expense and that was loaded with other passengers / strangers who did not know Mike.  This General, whose name I don't remember from that time of grief and sometimes being totally overwhelmed by so many names, denied me something dear and something so simple.  It is probably a good thing I don't remember him at this point...  I have never been bitter or angry at the person(s) who killed Mike as I view that is what you do in war - you try to kill the guy on the other side.  But this General was supposed to be on "our side" and look out for Mike and us, yet for whatever reason, he took away something I can never have back, and even blew off my U.S. Congressman who tried to intercede.
 
But, ever since the moment the news of Mike's death came to my door at 0700 August 16, 2005, I have tried to make the best of the situation and God has blessed me with many things, what I call Romans 8:28 blessings.  Back in February when the President ordered Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert Gates to review the Dover Policy and determine if the media could be allowed back to record the coming home of our Fallen, I had the opportunity to meet with an Under Secretary of Defense who was heading up the policy review.   In a thirty minute private meeting at the Pentagon, I told my story with Mike coming from Dover and how we were not allowed to see him received home on U.S. soil nor even allowed to ride in the same commercial aircraft at our expense.  Respectfully,  I didn't bite my words when it came to who should be on the front row and have the most access to their loved one's return at Dover and eventually to their home destination.  While I thought the media should be kept out of Dover, I also recognized and expressed that some families might want that and the family should decide, not the U.S. Government.  But I also emphasized that the family had to be protected and not be hounded by the media to gain permission or while at Dover.   And, if anyone was at Dover, it should include the family, and they shouldn't have to buy their own ticket to get there given what has already been paid!   While I didn't get my first choice - no media at Dover, I am pleased overall with how the policy was laid out and put into effect and honestly, I have talked to a number of families since who have been to Dover under the new policy and it seems to work with respect.
 
It is now 1839 hours and four years ago Mike's hearse had just passed the Burger King on U.S. 78.  As I sat there at Mike's feet, tears were continually welling up and trickling down my cheeks as I recalled the number of days we had stopped at this same Burger King to eat and let him burn off some energy after we had picked him up from school for an evening out or to head home for the weekend.  It has changed over the years and the slide he and I used to play on when he was but three and four is now gone.  But I could still see it in my heart that day four years ago just as I can now....   In a few minutes, four years ago, we were going by Yellow River Game Ranch where we used to visit the animals - kind of like a mini zoo with more intimacy and some of the animals like deer, squirrel and other critters walking about.  One particular memory was when Mike had to save his younger brother Wes, then about age three, from an aggressive deer that was rearing up on his hind legs and kicking at Wes. Mike, then about ten, stepped in between, pushing Wes back toward me as I ran to them  Mike swatted the dear away.  Even then, he protected us, I guess it was just who he was...
 
Now, in just a few moments the ride in the hearse was about to be over and there are many other memories and stories I could tell about taking Mike home those many days from visitation.  My personal private ride in the hearse with Mike was about to be over and it was to be My Last Ride to Take My Boy Home.  I would not have him to myself from that moment on, for it was now time to share him and over the next three days there would be thousands we would share him with....  My Boy was Home.
 
DUTY  HONOR  COUNTRY.
 
Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
USA E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG

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