Fallen But Never Forgotten

In the Event of My Death, Open This Letter...

We all have written them - letters to your loved ones in the case you don't come home.   It's where you try to make sure that they will be at peace with your decisions and sacrifice, let them know how much you love them, and, sometimes, try to make them smile.  It's a way to continue to defend them, even after death...

We've posted some of them before here.

So fast forward to a friend of mine, Dan Gade, who we've featured here before.  I think this idea has a lot of merit.

...Before I was deployed to Iraq in 2004, I wrote a letter to my wife, Wendy, to be opened only ‘In the Event of My Death’.  In it, I expressed my love and admiration for her, my gratitude for our life together, and my fondest hopes for her future with our daughter.  In the summer of 2011, while we were moving to West Point, I discovered the letter in a binder and allowed her to read it- her reaction to the letter is where this book idea came from...

Well, that letter came awfully close to being opened as Dan almost didn't come back and was the first full leg amputee of the wars.  He now teaches at West Point when he's not competing in Iron Man races (for the full story of the ReneGade click here).  Dan is reaching out to all of you military men and women who wrote these letters or might know someone who wrote them.  As Dan says, it's about honoring them:

The idea is to honor military families by publishing a series of the kinds of letters that they write to their loved ones for delivery after their death.  These love letters- in various degrees of eloquence- capture the military family's sacrifice in service.  The book will be nothing BUT these letters- no spin, no editing, and no commentary.  I'm soliciting both Gold Star families and military families whose letters were never needed for the project.

Please take a look-

So take a look and contact Dan if you would like to be included in this honorable project.


Movie Review: Warhorse

Gold Star Dad, Robert Stokely, sends this piece about his recent experience with Steven Spielberg's latest film:

My wife and I went to a movie tonight.  Stephen Spielberg's Warhorse.  It was a debate whether to go.  War is too personal and real to us.  It is a good movie, but I am not so sure whether it was a good decision for us to go.  We both left down.

Unlike most movies this day and time, Spielberg didn't show up close and personal graphic scenes of blood and gore.   By today's standards it was pretty tame.  For that, I am appreciative.  I got it just fine that soldiers died in battle without sensationalism of bullets tearing into their torsos, or brains / guts  spilling out. If one can say this about war, Spielberg did a tasteful recreation of the horrors of war, particularly the horrors of WW I trench warfare replete with soldiers charging across barbed wire laced open fields into raging machine gun fire.  But the one thing that can't be muted down are the explosions from artillery shells, even if the lethality of the explosions was not graphically displayed.  For me, a bomb or artillery shell exploding is too too close to home given Mike was killed by an IED - an artillery shell used as the explosive charge.  Even during the Star Spangled Banner when it comes to the words "...bombs bursting...." I struggle as I bow my head, eyes closed clutching Mike's dog tag.

Warhorse is a love story about a horse whose owner loses him when his debt stricken dad has to sell him to the English Army.  It is a story of a son going off to war to find his horse and along the way, losing friends and suffering violence himself.  And the back story is the son leaves a dad at home who can't escape the horrors of war he suffered as a lad.

Warhorse is also about the brutality war had on the horses and about how innocent civilians are caught up in the harshness in the midst of just trying to live day to day.  And I once again appreciate that Spielberg got the story across without sensationalized gore.  And in a low key way Spielberg's Warhorse shows how hard war is on the family back home.

But there is one facet of Warhorse that demonstrated a vulnerability I have and I don't think I will ever live beyond.  Warhorse has a good ending.  A son gone to war comes home and brings his beloved horse with him.  It is a quietly triumphant moment with quiet love of a mother and dad lovingly greeting their son at the front gate of their farm, hardly believing it is him, and hoping with every gaze he is whole and really alive.  It is at that moment, and thankfully it came at the end of the movie for if not I don't think I could have continued watching, that I choked back sobs.  It was too real for me.  It was a vivid reminder what I did not get.  It brought back my dreams of getting that moment even before Mike left for Iraq. It hurt.

Every parent, for that matter every family member, dreams and longs for their soldier to come home.  They yearn for that moment to look with long awaited anticipation and see a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, mom or dad come home from war.  They look with anticipation to see for themselves they are alive, they are "o.k."   And as I think about it now, and from time to time, I am grief stricken to the point of being sick on my stomach that we didn't get to run across the parade field and bear hug Mike and cry tears of joy.  Rather, we gently touched a Flag Draped Casket with tears of grief.    And when we did, we were soon to be saying a final goodbye as our life story physically connected to Mike ended as we laid him to rest.

As I choked back sobs tonight, I did so for another reason besides realizing again what I will never have.  I cried because I also got a visual image through Spielberg's art of a son who did come home from war, and was struck by what his parents were feeling - thankful and happy.  And I relish the opportunity to witness those whose sons and daughters came home.  Recently, thanks to Facebook, I saw one of Mike's battle buddies come home and through cyberspace, I gave him a hug.

Why put myself through that?  Why not just hide away and avoid it?  Because I owe it to Mike to be happy for his friends and to any family who gets their loved one home from war.  I owe it to them.  And I owe it to myself    It is not their fault Mike didn't come home.  And for those who have allowed me, I cherish the opportunity to share their joy, even selfishly live vicariously through their's.  And sometimes, I selfishly ask them to give their loved one an extra tight squeeze for me when they hug them....  It is so kind and unselfish of these families to welcome us when you could understand if they avoided us.  After all, we are not the face you want to see when it comes to how war turns out.   I admire them that they don't, for that is truly unselfish of them.  They do it without relinquishing their own joy, or feeling pity for us.  They make us feel like family. And I am reminded in that example of their unselfishness to share their joy with us that Mike left us a legacy bigger than treasure rooms could hold.  He left us battle buddies and their families to be our friends who would not turn their back on us.

As I reflect tonight as the Moon Over Yusufiyah shines through the briskly cold night, I offer this advice to parents out there, and the rest of their family as well.  If you ever find yourself feeling like you want to wring your child's neck, whether young, teen, or grown, think of how good it feels to hug it instead.  And then hug them, and give them an extra squeeze for me....

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah

Godspeed, SFC Ben Wise

Some pals at SOCOM wanted you all to know about SFC Benjamin Wise:


Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin B. Wise, 34, of El Dorado, Ark., died Jan. 15, 2012 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany of injuries sustained when his unit was engaged by enemy small-arms fire in Konduz Province, Afghanistan.

Wise was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. This was Wise's fourth deployment in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.

Wise graduated from West Side Christian High School in 1995 and entered the United States Army in November 2000 as an infantryman.

Upon completion of Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training and the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2001, he was assigned to the 520th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis- McChord where he deployed to Iraq as a member of the Battalion Scout Platoon from 2003-2004. In 2005, Wise volunteered for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course and was selected to continue training as medical sergeant in the Special Forces Qualification Course.

After graduating from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2008, Wise was assigned to 3rd Bn, 1st SFG (A). During his time with the unit, he deployed once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

Wise’s military education includes the Warrior Leader’s Course, the Advanced Leader’s Course, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) Course, the Recon and Surveillance Leadership Course and the Basic Airborne Course.

Wise’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the NATO Medal, the Army Commendation Medal (3rd Award), the Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd award), the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with three campaign stars, the Afghan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Overseas Service Ribbon (2nd award), the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral 2, the Army Service Ribbon, the Special Forces Tab, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.

He is survived by his wife, Traci; his sons Luke and Ryan; and his daughter Kailen.

And from a statement from the Wise family.

The Wise family is sincerely touched by the concern and interest all have taken in Ben’s life, his career and his sacrifice for our country. Ben was proud of the career he built in the Army.

We would like to thank friends and his fellow Soldiers for their sincere expressions of sympathy during this very difficult time. Your support is appreciated as we mourn the loss of Ben who was a loving husband, a devoted father, a caring son and a selfless Soldier.

Of note, SFC Wise's brother, a US Navy SEAL, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009:

...Sgt. 1st Class Ben Wise was the second son from his family to make the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country, the first being his brother, Jeremy, a former Navy SEAL who was killed in a terrorist attack against a CIA outpost in Afghanistan in December, 2009.

Sgt. 1st Class Ben Wise, in a September, 2004, interview with the Hope Star, said he was proud to be a professional soldier.

“It's a job,” he quipped. “Yes, there are a lot of frustrating things about being over there, about being with people from another culture and the special circumstances. But, at the end of the day, it's a job; and, we're specialists in the field. The troops are sent there to accomplish a mission.

“It's something I've wanted to do for a while now,” he said at the time. “I was in college and I took a break from college and thought I'd do it now while I was relatively young. I wanted to serve my country, and do something that I found exciting.”...

Godspeed, SFC Ben Wise.

Into The Light: Jim "Seamus" Garrahy

Words fail me, but thankfully they did not fail Marcus at YouServed.  "Seamus" commented here a few times, was a friend to Matt, and I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple of times at his home where the Face of America bike ride ended.  Indeed, like all who participated, I was treated to steak and beer by him.  He fought the good fight to the end, and we are the richer for his life.  Semper Fi Seamus.


Good going, Texans!

At the Houston Texans game, a plot was revealed...

Marine Scott Wood died four weeks ago after suffering injuries during combat in Iraq. Before his burial, his wife dressed him in two uniforms. On the outside, Scott wore his military dress blues. Underneath, he wore the blue No. 80 jersey of Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Sara Wood had been married to Scott for eight years. They have a five-year-old son together named Landon. Now he and Sara live in a single room in her parent's house.
When Sara got an offer to go watch the Houston Texans play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, she jumped at the opportunity. She knew her husband would have loved to go the Reliant Stadium to watch his beloved team play. Plus, she and Landon had never been to a game before.

As described in a column by Tully Corcoran on FSHouston.com, the team brought Sara to the game under the pretense that she and her son would be part of a halftime ceremony in which Landon would receive a bike and Scott's memory would be celebrated by the 71,500 in attendance. Both those things happened, but a much bigger surprise awaited...

Go check out what awaited Scott Wood's family.  Nice going, Texas!

108 Hours - A Thank You and Mission Complete

RE:  108 Hours

Many of you figured out who it was that we were transporting to Iraq. Mr. Robert Stokely provides a Thank You and AAR of a sort for you all to read. My deepest gratitude goes out to the amazing men and women of TigerSwan, Delta Airlines, the National Rifle Association and Soldiers' Angels (especially Patti Patton Bader, and Ricky John and the Louisiana angels).

We had to choose a mission commander, someone with deep Iraq experience, a man who knew routes, convoy ops, force protection, and most importantly, could make tough decisions while literally under fire. That man who deserves the most thanks is my friend and brother, Toby Nunn, who we chose to be the Mission Commander.  This mission was successful because of him, this is his victory.

Last, I get too much credit for making the impossible happen. I really appreciate Robert's thanks, but really what makes things like this happen is all of you who donated and helped to spread the word. It was, quite simply, the right thing to do.

So our goal was for Robert to find some peace.  Did he?  Read on and find out for yourself...

It is now 0215 hours 11 Nov 11. I can't sleep. Not unusual this time of the month. The moon waxes full and draws me into being awake. There is enough moon light in the Georgia night to see without artificial light. A little more full than on the night of August 16, 2005 when SGT Mike Stokely was killed by a powerful IED blast on a lonely road near Yusufiyah Iraq. In the earliest moments of being notified of his death a few hours later, I felt immense guilt for not being there to protect him, and even though I could rationalize my feeble ability was not sufficient match for the skill he possessed much less the skill of the team of soldiers at his side that night. I felt even more guilt for not at least being there to hold him in his final moments, if only to offer the same comfort I offered him when I held him in my arms as a sick baby just 23 years before. How did I go from a car seat to a Flag Draped Casket in such a short period of time?

In the week before he was killed, in what was my last goodbye and hearing him say "I love you dad", I had joked I would come see him. Yusufiyah was an awful place full of violence where he and his platoon were vastly outnumbered in the area they patrolled. They were there to disrupt the bomb making insurgents and foreign fighters who were staging bombs into Baghdad and to protect roadways that were vital routes in and out of the south of Baghdad. I remember he said I didn't want to come there, but I told him one day I would. And so it was in those first moments of learning of his death I vowed I would go, I would see where he served, and breathe the air he breathed, see what he saw. I had to do it, and could not rest in peace until I did. I had to give it my best try at the very least for I could not stand the thought of dying and not having tried.

In the few months after his death I was at work on a plan to credential as a media person even though I have no journalistic training much less experience. I had a willing outlet and plans were developing when my sweet 13 year old daughter, Abbey and I were rammed by a car running a stop sign at full speed and we rolled and flipped. Abbey was seriously injured but survived, albeit with injuries that took 18 months to fully recover. A few days later ABC Anchor Bob Woodruff was hit by an IED and seriously wounded, suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury. My wife Retta, a quiet women who is gracious and suffers in silence, could bear the thought nor more and simply implored me not to go, saying "We can't take another tragedy...." So I put it aside, for the time being, but vowing one day I would go to where the Moon over Yusufiyah shines.

Last December I felt the call so strongly I could wait no more. I reached out to Matt Burden at Blackfive and asked for his help in formulating an entry plan. Over the next ten months he worked with many others and Soldiers Angels stepped up to the plate and took financial ownership of the trip. More so, they put skin in the game in the name of a Guardian Angel named Toby Nunn who helped plan and coordinate but whose end game primary role was to accompany and look after me on the trip. Toby has the experience to do so being a multiple tour of duty Veteran of Iraq. Today, he is my dear friend and brother. It would take pages to detail all he has done as it would that of Matt Burden and Soldiers Angels including dear friend Ricky John who is Vice Chair of Soldiers Angels.

Matt started the ball rolling fund raising wise in a post last spring titled it 108 Hours, which helped conceal my identity because of my on-going references to where Mike was killed, Moon over Yusufiyah. I have to tell you raising money for such a project is difficult when you can't really share a lot of info with others. But Matt, Soldiers Angels, a radio host name Chris Krok in Dallas TX and many many many others, especially Ricky John and his friends in Shreveport LA did the job. And ;people like Kevin Moss of Chick-fil-A hooked us up with a key contact at Delta named Patty Dejesus, who happens to be a Soldiers Angels Affiliate, and she in turn hooked us up with a Senior VP who sprung us generous airfare sponsorship to get us to the Middle East.

I am less than qualified to talk the details of planning because Matt, Toby and Ricky handled all that. I will leave it to them to tell those details, but suffice it to say it is a complicated process that required the help of so many contacts that came through their experiences and talents. But one area I have a lot of insight is with the Security Team that took us in, safeguarded us, and got us out without a scratch. TigerSwan is co-founded by James Reese and Brian Searcy, both retired Delta Force. You want some locked and loaded, been there and really done that, experienced of the experienced guys looking after you, you want them. And they cut us a deal and then some.

For my part, I trained to get in better shape. First up I changed my diet and lost 25 pounds. Then I started working out with weights to build upper body and back strength to enable me to carry a special marker to place at the site where Mike fell. And I walked with an armored vest weighing 25 plus pounds for five miles at a time to build endurance for the airports we would walk in and in case at some point I had to be on foot I could keep up and pull my load. If nothing else Mike has been a major factor in getting much healthier and most likely extending my life expectancy.

I have traveled the country meeting about 108 Hours and going to fund raisers. Two trips to San Antonio, Washington DC and two trips to Shreveport LA, culminating with a trip October 25, 2011 to Raliegh NC visit TigerSwan HQ and meet Jim Reese, Brian Searcy and their team. Thankfully I have a lot of friends at Delta Airlines and their buddy passes have been a cheap way to get around to all the meetings including the quick morning flight/afternoon return to TigerSwan. It was just a few days to our push-out to Dubai on October 31 late night flight on Delta Airlines. So it was at 2143 Hours Atlanta local time, 108 Hours went wheels up as we lifted off the runaway. I had remained calm and emotions in check until that final taxi out from the terminal. But then, it happened - I looked out the window and there was the Moon nearing its half moon phase. It was too much and I cried, I mean really cried and quietly whispered "I am coming Mike, I am keeping that promise..." Thankfully the run-up of the engines drowned out my sobs and the darkness of the cabinet hid my tears.

Fourteen hours plus later we touched down in the darkness of a new night at Dubai. Now I have to be honest and admit that even though I was riding in comfort, having been very well attended to and fed continually by the Delta flight crew, that my butt was sore and my back was stiff. I wondered how it was that Mike must have felt given his flight over to Kuwait on May 15, 2005 was not nearly so comfortable nor did he get cabin service like I did and I know for a fact he was crammed in with a plane load of soldiers each with less than the room they needed for their big frames to stretch out. A reminder that my son was a man more than I can ever be and obviously much tougher than me.

From Dubai we departed on Wed. 2 Nov for Amman Jordan, a three hour flight or so back north, but relatively short compared to the pond jump we had just made. In Amman we linked up with Jim Reese and TigerSwan and left the next day, Thursday 3 Nov for Baghdad. I can't tell you how excited I was as we reached the landing pattern for BIAP - Baghdad International Airport. I strained to look over the two seats to my right to see out the window. There we met the TigerSwan Iraq team and headed to their secured compound in downtown Baghdad. There we had final briefings and planning to move south to Yusufiyah the next morning to the site where Mike was killed. Ironically it was the 24th year since my father suddenly died at a much too young age of 62.

But that night I sat on the roof of the TigerSwan compound and just stared at Moon and just drank it in as I sat just 18 miles by air from where that same moon shone down over where Mike fell. I was almost to the Moon over Yusufiyah. As I tried for so many months and days to imagine getting Mike home from deployment, running the scene through my head seeing him march onto a Ft. Stewart parade field and feeling what it would be like to run and embrace him - no bear hug him and feel the excitement and joy of him come home from war, so it was I tried to imagine actually kneeling at the very spot where he fell. Friday 4 Nov was to be that day.

We arose early and loaded up and headed south. Tampa is a route coming in from the south that Mike had traveled into Baghdad when they convoyed up from Kuwait in late May 2005. Now I was on it heading south on it to Mamuhdiyah just to the east of Yusufiyah. For the next few hours we sized up the area and the final security assessment was made. All the while we cris-crossed many roads to the northern sector of Mike's area of operations traveling on roads such as Harley and Fatboy. Got to tell you I am awkward to say the least wearing body armor and head gear. I have even more respect for Mike and all military personnel who do their jobs wearing this heavy cumbersome gear. I learned doing simple things like trying to reach across your body and scratch your elbow is a challenge. I was asked along the way what Mike would think about me making this trip. I can see him laughing at me waddling like a top heavy duck trying to figure out how to bend and move about with the gear on, getting hung up in the door of the vehicle trying to get in and out He would probably be overly worried and cautious about me being there. He would want to protect me, even tell me to not come. He was a protector and that was a great loss to me, for I counted on him to be there in my infirmed years as I grew old, maybe even to carry me in his arms if need be.

As we started moving to the south toward Yusufiyah and the site where Mike was killed, we began to run into Iraqi Army checkpoints. We had to divert at their orders to other routes and finally were diverted to the main road from Tampa into Yusufiyah. We cleared four more checkpoints and then it happened. The fifth checkpoint came news of danger and unacceptable risk ahead and we were turned back. 1.5 miles from the site. I could feel it, I could smell it, I could almost see it in the distance. But it was not to be. My heart broke, I cried and I was so sick to my stomach I wanted to throw up. I wanted it and I was willing to risk anything to get that last 1.5 miles behind me. But, the plan all along was the security team maintained final say for it was their job to keep us safe. They made the call - it was a no go. But they offered to send their personnel alone and at least place the marble engraved 40 plus pound slab I had brought from home to placed at the site where Mike fell. It was tempting. But in the end my feeling and words were if it was too dangerous for me to go it was too dangerous for their personnel to go. We either all went or no one went. I would not let them do the dangerous heavy lifting and me sit up the road in safety.

We pulled back and continued to assess. The decision was made we would try again on Saturday 5 Nov. It was hoped we might get an Iraqi Army escort and during the night it looked as though we would. But the thugs acted up really worse than the day before and the escort was not available. The area was too hot and dangerous. My dream of kneeling at the site where Mike died was over for the time being for we were out of time to make another go of it. Later that day a bomb killed 27 in the area. More confirmation that TigerSwan made the right call.

While I did not get to the spot in the road where Mike fell, the trip was a great success. The planning was well planned and worked. We went in safe and left safe and I am now home safe as is all those on the team. TigerSwan did a great job and their instincts and knowledge were key to our safety in the end. They hold out hope that another time we can make a go of it and gave me a standing invite to come back when.... But my age and the reality of what is about to happen after the American withdrawal is complete makes that a tough odds probability. But, I will not close the door and if things got to a better state of safety I will go back, but only if the conditions improve dramatically for the stress of this trip was hard on my family. To be expected, for Iraq has bitten us hard. I wanted at least one shot at this and I got it. I got a lot in the deal. I am thankful for what I was given, for 5000 plus other families in the War on Terror will most likely not get such an opportunity. I got to see the area in Baghdad and in Mike's area of operations to the south and I now at least have an understanding of where he was, what he was up against and what it was "like". I kept the promise I made to Mike. I went there. I kept the promise I made to myself. And in the end, I vainly proved to myself that I would not run scared of Iraq the rest of my life. I have faith in God that he had a reason to close the door to that last 1.5 miles and that if he wants me to make the trip and get there one day, it will happen. But if it does not, he has blessed me with so much. As Lou Gehrig, the famed Yankee first baseman said in his farewell speech when the disease named for him struck him down in his prime, "Today I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth." So it is for me.

I went to Iraq to go to a place where Mike was killed, and my actual perception was only of that of a country on a map. But in the trip I got unexpected bonuses. I fast formed a friendship with the TigerSwan Iraq staff - an all Iraqi team. They have families, they have hopes and they have dreams of peace and freedom. I met their dear children who hugged and thanked me for what Mike did. I met an Iraqi dad who lost his civilian son and nephew to a violent bomb blast as they did what young men in their late teens do - just hanging out and trying to enjoy life and friendship, bothering no one. While our languages kept us from understanding the words we spoke absent the help of an interpreter, our hearts and eyes spoke the same language. Grief for sons lost. A broken heart is a broken heart in any language. This Iraqi father offered me comfort and prayers for a better future and for a healed heart. While I offered the same I was caught with the reality that he has the greater suffering. When Mike was killed our war ended. But this Iraqi dad's war continues and what a heavy additional load of pain it must be to live in a continuing dangerous environment wondering what is next for your family, especially in the wake of the American withdrawal. I just wish I had the ability to take this off their shoulders and make it better.

I will leave it to my dear friend Toby Nunn to offer his views and more details. Honestly, I am kind of exhausted from the trip - mentally exhausted, and still trying to process it all. I can't adequately tell you how I feel but suffice it to say in the end it is good. There is a dot in the matrix I want to kneel and touch. I know where it is at. As long as this earth turns, the dot will not move and it will always be there. It is the center of the bulls eye of my dream. In horseshoes close counts, and so it is with my trip to the Moon over Yusufiyah. I got real close. I made it farther than some might have thought and came home safer than some worried I might. I feel restored. I can live life more fully. I can die in peace. I can now look at the Moon over Yusufiyah actually having seen it up close and personal. And I have a good alternate place for the engraved marble slab, which for now is in the safeguarded hands placed on the roof of the TigerSwan compound in Baghdad, where the Moon over Yusufiyah will shine down on it.

You can't really know how much you love a son or daughter until you lose them. I pray that those who read my words or hear my voice will never know such love. Always bear in mind when those moments come that you might want to ring your child's neck to consider how good it feels to hug it. Make memories as you go and don't worry about trying to make them big and fancy. Disney World, and the like are great, but the everyday unplanned moments are much sweeter. Memories sustain you in tough times. Life can be lost, pictures destroyed and film erased. But memories endure our entire life. We need neither light of day or dark of night to see them clearly in our minds. We can enjoy them alone or share them with others. Memories are always available where we may be, what we may be doing, 24/7.

Romans 8:28 - from all things God can work good.


Remember with Honor.

Thank you Matt, Blackfive Team, Toby, Ricky, Soldiers Angels (and my dear friend and head Angel Patti Patton-Bader) and so many others, some whose names I am yet to learn, but know that I am forever grateful for your help.

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq


Godspeed Master Corporal Byron Greff

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The transfer case carrying the remains of Master Cpl. Byron Greff, 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, rests in the cargo hold of a C-130 on Bagram Air Field as a Canadian bagpipe player bows his head in prayer during a ramp ceremony Oct. 31. Greff was killed in an Oct. 29 Taliban attack when a vehicle packed with explosives rammed into the armored passenger Rhino Greff was traveling in. Greff served as a NATO Training Mission advisor and instructor, developing trainers to educate Afghan Army service members. Approximately 920 Canadian forces personnel serve in advisory and support roles at training camps and headquarters locations primarily in the Kabul area. Smaller contingents serve at training institutions in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and in Herat in western Afghanistan. The mission's mandate extends to March 2014.  Photo by Senior Airman Katie Justen.

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Canada 3 482118_q75A Canadian service member holds a pillow bearing the badges, beret and poppy flower of Master Cpl. Byron Greff, 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, during a ramp ceremony on Bagram Air Field Oct. 31.

Beirut: In Memoriam

REPOST:  From 2003 and 2010. I spent part of yesterday thinking about Bill and his family, times past, and the future.  May you do a bit of that too. 



I wrote what is below back in 2003.  I'm reposting it here today, and will link to some of the other posts going up as I can.  Remember them, as individuals and a group.  They came in peace. 


Darn Sgt. Hook anyway, it's his fault the dust has gotten into my eyes. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Over at his wonderful site, he has a memorial up, one that I missed. Part of it is my fading memory, and part of it is something else, something deeper that I really don't want to look at too closely.

At this memorial site, to which the good Sgt. sent me, there is a list of names. With trepedation I scrolled down it, and there it was:

Stelpflug, Bill J. USMC LCPL 10/23/1983 AL Auburn, AL

I never really knew Bill, but I knew his family. His mother was a student in the English department where I both studied and dated one of the graduate students/teachers. His sister was a gorgeous creature on whom I had quite a crush, with a wonderful personality and soul to go with the package. His sister even modeled for me when I was learning portrait photography, and I never did have the courage to tell her how badly I screwed up the shots. If they were not perfect, I was not going to show them to her. For her, I was not willing to show or share anything less than the best. Everyone of the family that I was graced to meet were such good people. The kind of people who epitomized not just Southern hospitality, but charity, grace, consideration, and all the other attributes that make up those special, rare, people in the world.

Then came that day. The news filtered out, and then the worst news came. One of Auburn's own was among the dead. Bill, a loving and laughing brother was not coming home. The lights dimmed, but the family did keep plugging away. At least in public, they never lost the core of what made them such good people.

I never did have the words to express my sorrow to them, and I still don't. All I can say is "I remember." And to that, I will add "NEVER AGAIN!"

Damn dust. Need to clean up more in here.



Today, as always on this day, I remember Bill Stelpflug, and I remember his family.  My thoughts go out to all those who lost loved ones this day. 

Go check out the following (far too few) remembrances as well:

Assoluta Tranquillita

Cassy Fiano/Green Room

 The Jawa Report

Boston Maggie

NOTE:  Since this is a re-post, if anyone has any current posts they think should be shared, please do put them in the comments. 

Godspeed SSG Robert B. "Brian" Cowdrey

Brian hoist

There is a special place in this world and the next for the healers.  This is especially true for a very special breed of healer. 

Brian treating wounded

Those that truly know what it means to be of the brotherhood, that know honor and courage in a way others never will, know that breed.  For they have seen that healer appear and rush towards them when all others would turn and run.  They know in the depths of their souls that this person would truly give their life to help save theirs, for they risk without hesitation their life to help those fallen and in need. That they will tend to all, no matter what.

  Brian and work

Military history is filled with such people, those who risked all to heal those in need.  For all that there were, there are never enough.  For it takes a very special person to join that group, and the number we have is now one fewer. 

Brian in the field
SSG Brian Cowdrey was one of this very special breed.  A loving husband to his wife Jill, a devoted father to his children, brother, and son.  He was so very proud that his oldest son, Justin, had also chosen to serve, passed basic, and was now a 15T with a flight crew.  His middle son, Nathan, has dreams of West Point and his youngest son, Jacob wants to make a positive difference in this world -- just like his dad. Jacob has posted this for you to see:

This was not the first time Brian had risked all to help another.  I send you here, to read a final interview with him; here to read one of several stories about him from Soldiers' Angels Germany; and, here to see another video.   

Brian and Jill
His high-school sweetheart and love of his life Jill, is now left with a void in her life that can never be filled.  They were together 17 years, and Brian always had a secret smile for her. 

Family with dogs
Brian with nieces in CO

Family meant everything to Brian, and he leaves behind not only Jill and his sons, but a brother, nieces, nephews, and cousins. 

Sampson and Brian
Brian had options in life, but chose to re-enlist.  He also chose to do that which was his calling, and rather than take an instructor slot at Ft. Rucker, he chose to be with "his guys" in Afghanistan.  Truly, no greater love. 

Those of mean and venal nature can n'er understand.  Those of normal courage can but stand in awe.  For there are those who do not hesitate, who go where angels fear to tread, to bring hope and healing to those in desperate straights. 

Please take a moment to follow the links, to read a bit about this man.  Keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers now and in the days ahead.  In time, their pain will fade, but one thing that never will is his love for them, and the last full measure of devotion he gave. 

Staff Sgt. Robert B. Cowdrey, 39.  KIA 13 October 2011, Kunar provence, Afghanistan.

Godspeed Brian. 

Team Blackfive