April 3, 2009

From the Congressional Record.

ALLOWING PRESS AT DOVER AIR FORCE BASE WHEN FALLEN TROOPS RETURN

Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to one of our fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our Nation in Iraq, and to share a letter I recently received from his father, Robert Stokely. Robert's letter relates to a Department of Defense policy that directly affected his family, and most especially, Mr. Speaker, his son.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to read this letter, as I feel it is necessary for this body to fully understand this issue in order to protect the dignity of our troops. Robert Stokely is from Newnan, Georgia, my wife's hometown. And of course I represented that area and am very proud of the folks in Newnan.




Mr. Robert Stokely writes:

``I was alarmed at the question asked by Ed Henry at President Obama's address to the Nation on Monday, February 9, 2009, i.e., allowing media access and cameras at Dover Air Force Base where fallen military personnel arrive on their final trip home to an honorable rest. I am also alarmed by an AP news article that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has ordered a review of the policy. Please take a moment and read my story of meeting my son, and hopefully you can have a vivid image of why it is
important to keep the family first in this matter, for it is a very personal moment when a fallen hero arrives home.

``I met my son's body at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on August 24, 2005 as he arrived from Dover. I went alone as a special privilege to take his body to the funeral home, where the family would then be the first to see the most striking, vivid image of a fallen loved one, the flag-draped casket. I rode in the hearse to take him on a 25-mile ride, covering the roads that Mike and I had shared so many days as a divorced dad and son going to and from visitation on weekends,
holidays, and summers. It was a `last ride to take my boy home.' ''

And this is in bold font, Mr. Speaker.

``I wore a favorite blue blazer, trousers, and a red and blue striped tie, for my son deserved my respect. As they uncrated his casket and draped the American flag over him, I saluted from nearby, tears streaming down my cheeks, as a number of busy U.S. Air cargo employees suddenly stopped in stunned silence, only then realizing what was taking place.

``I held my salute, poor as it was for an untrained civilian, until the flag was completely draped and the edges evenly cornered out. Then I stepped outside to call my wife, Retta, who loved him like one of her own. And as she answered the telephone, with tears still streaming down my cheeks and with a quiver in my voice, I said, ``our boy is home.''

Mike Stokely was age 23 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. While the political debate about Iraq or any other war may be had in a free country like this, such as we enjoy, there is no debate that our military personnel engage in of the politics of when, where, or how long a war is waged. They have a constitutional duty to obey the Commander in Chief's lawful orders.

Mike Stokely, and many others, did their constitutional duty, and in doing so, preserved our freedom. Mike, and those like him who haven't yet but will die for America, do not need to be a media spectacle at Dover Air Force Base.

``I was once asked what I thought the real cost of freedom is. There are many such costs, but for the Stokely family, and like many of us, the highest cost has been paid, a lifetime of love.

``Is it too much to ask, given what the fallen and their families have given America, for us to have that first moment of seeing the flag-draped casket to be ours and ours alone? Should we now be asked to give more so that something so private can be used to sell advertising, to ensure a media outlet's profitable bottom line? Black ink on the bottom line is usually a good thing, but it cannot be so when it comes at the cost of making a spectacle of our fallen, thus dishonoring their spilled red
American blood. I hope your answer will be an unequivocal, unwavering, and unapologetic `no,' and that you will fight to keep the honorable sanctity of Dover rather than allow it to become a media spectacle.

``Please protect our fallen and their families and the privacy of Dover, for our fallen have given their lives to protect the lifetime of love you and your family and millions of other Americans continue to live and enjoy.

``Proud dad of Sergeant Mike Stokely.''

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