[By Robert Stokely]
Like 41 months ago, I am unable to sleep. Unlike 41 months ago, I am not up and rambling about with the same anxiety, for I do not have a son in war now as then. So I ponder many things about my children that I have much to be proud of.
Proud - I am the blessed father of three children, each special in their own way. Obviously, Mike is a story that many know. He loved America so much he not only answered the call to duty, but gave his life in the service of America. It is the ultimate sacrifice one can give. He accomplished much for a young man of 23, and now three plus years out his legacy continues to help other kids have books and go to college, including improving the education opportunities of the kids of Yusufiyah.
Wes Stokely was just barely 17 when he lost his older brother in Iraq and was thrust in to grief in the most uncomfortable way possible for him - a lot of people suddenly around him and in his life. Wes is a very quiet and private person and being front and center is not his comfort zone. But he stepped up and showed he was more a man than this old man had really realized. He handled it with grace, looking out for the rest of us. I'll never forget his arms around his 13 year old sister, or in his quiet way of handling things, stepping in when a news reporter kept trying to get Abbey to give a statement a few days after Mike's death. He is independent having moved out after graduating high school and fully supporting himself, now age 20. He can live offf the land, an avid hunter. He works hard as a welder for Yamaha. You might not get a lot of talk out of Wes, but when the time comes, you can count on him to act. He was thrust into a role of the oldest too soon and has stepped up to fill the gap, in love for his family and in honor of his fallen brother. He misses Bubba (his early speech for "brother" - Mike). Wes is a good man and will himself one day be a great dad should he choose to have children.
Abbey is now 16 and has endured when others would have folded. At the waning months of her 12th year she watched her beloved big brother march to war. Just three months later, barely 13, she went to her first funeral and heard the volley of a 21 gun salute, watched a flag folded with honor, and heard the mournful sound of Taps, as her brother's military funeral 11 days after the worst news a family with a loved one in war can hear. To say the least, it is hard on a good day to be a 13 year old girl, never mind such grief and loss to deal with. Yet, she endured and then just five months later, nearly lost her own life as the car she and I were driving was struck broadside by a driver who ran a stop sign. We rolled, then flipped end over end, coming to reast 150 feet from point of impact, her door sheered away. Her first words as she came to from being unconcious - Dad, are you o.k. as she writhed in pain from neck and head injuries, bleeding from a cut from flying glass. As she ended an 18 month recovery, she was bitten by a tick and came down with Lyme Disease. Fatigued and sickened she missed most of the school day each day the last year and a half, managing, on a good day to go to a few classes. Yet she kept her straight A average up. She is in the 18th month fighting this disease and just got her latest grade report - 100 in Advanced Trig, 99 in Advanced Chemistry, 97 in Advanced Social Studies and 95 in Advanced / college level Literature. I have watched her too tired and too sick to sit up straight, still continue to work and study on a Friday or Saturday night to make up work she missed during the week. And during this, she endured another wreck with slight neck and back injuries when another car recently slammed into the rear of her car as she waited on a mail truck stopped in front of her. She is up for Governor's Honors in Chemistry and has her State interview January 31 and if selected will get to go to a special six we ek long intense study this summer. She was nominated last year but too sick to go. Maybe this year it works for her - I hope so, for to say the least she could use a break from the hardships she has endured. Tonight, as I told her good night, well after 11 p.m., she had just finished studying for several hours and what was she doing? Reading her Bible for she is a person of great spiritual faith as she not only professes but lives the Christian values she believes in. I am convinced there is but one thing she is not capable of - quittng. She is, without a doubt, the toughest person I know.
I have much to be thankful for, more than I deserve. Thank you God for blessing me with such children and letting me share life with them (as well as my wonderful wife, Retta).
proud of them all
and Remembering with Honor my son SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG