September 11, 2009

Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning - Robert Stokely

[A repost from 2006]

Alan Jackson, a very well known country music star, who hails from our county, Newnan / Coweta County, Georgia, wrote a song just after 9/11 and the thematic question was "where were you when the world stopped turning..." Many of us - most probably, can well remember where we were when we heard that awful news. Oh how well that I do.

On September 11, 2001 I was at Piedmont Hospital with my wife Retta as she had some outpatient testing performed. We got there early - 7:00 a.m. At the time that the first plane hit the Twin Towers, Mike Stokely was at FT. Gordon in Augusta, Georgia as he was midway through his Advanced Infantry Training. As I sat in that hospital waiting room, Retta in the back under sedation, a lady two seats down from me was on her cell phone, perplexed look on her face and then she exclaimed "are you sure?". She then turned to us and said an airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York. Shortly thereafter, she exclaimed "another one". I then found a TV in another waiting room and began to follow the events unfolding. An uneasy feeling crept over me as I returned down the hall to await Retta's recovery from sedation.

Later, toward noon, I took Retta home, as she was somewhat awake. I listened on the radio for news - it was not good, for by now, word had come that the Pentagon was also hit, and then, a plane was down in a field in Pennsylvania. As we continued home down I-85 from downtown Atlanta, we passed by Hartsfield International Airport. It was silent. No planes landing. No planes taking off. In all the years I have lived in and around Atlanta since 1968, I have never seen a time where you could go by the airport and no planes landing or taking off. A silence that was frightening engulfed the air as I crossed under stilled flight paths that day five years.

I got on the cell phone and tried to reach Mike. I was fortunate to get through and asked "what's going on your way?" His response was they were on alert, confined to base, and told to be ready on a moment's notice to deploy. Of course, there was much confusion nationwide and it was not for some hours before our country knew the worst that had happened and where we stood that day. But, on that day, I became alarmed - no afraid - that my son, Mike Stokely would go to war.

The invasion of Afghanistan was soon to follow with Iraq in play as well. Fast forward for our family and fall of 2004 orders came down for Mike Stokely's unit to ready to deploy. My heart sank for in the three years since 9/11, I had come to hope our family would escape a son going to war. But, it was now our turn. January 6, 2005, Mike Stokely and 120 plus of his fellow soldiers loaded on buses at the armory in Griffin, Georgia and headed to Fort Stewart for five plus months of training to deploy. As I watched my boy march to that bus, I cried, for now it was real and now, serious thoughts of a son who may not come marching back home again.

August 16, 2005, at approximately 0700 hours, news came to our home in Sharpsburg, news we did not want to hear. Mike Stokely was dead from wounds sustained in a powerful IED blast while on dismounted patrol near Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad. Eight days later, I was at Hartsfield International Airport to meet my boy coming in from Dover and watched them drape a flag over his casket. I look back now and I can only say thank God there are those willing to make the sacrifice that yields a flag draped casket. As long as we engage in battle, soldiers will die for this country. Let us find solace in the arrival of their flag draped caskets at Dover, for the day they do not arrive, is a day we find ourselves fighting our enemies upon our own soil rather than taking the fight to the enemy on their soil. Know that seeing a son come home in a flag draped casket is not what I wanted nor does any family want. But I say this, if not us, then who shall bear this burden. It was our turn to bear this special privilege of sacrifice. Mike knew that and was ready, and lead the way that we, as a family, might follow.

Now, I know the real answer to Alan Jackson's question asking where was I when the world stopped turning that September day. I was on my way to being the dad of a soldier who did his duty and willing gave his life for the country he loved.

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA by IED 16 Aug 2005 near Yusufiyah south of Baghdad
US Army E Troop 108th CAV 48th Brigade GA NATL Guard

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