Sharpsburg GA, 10 Nov. 2010 1952 hours
Dear Milblog Friends and readers:
Today as I headed to a long day at work, which usually means no lunch, I stopped for a good breakfast at a favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A. As I sat down at the counter to order I was next to a young man (30s maybe - young to me anyway) and I presume his lovely wife. They were talking and enjoying their meal as I ordered. Normally I would say hello as that is my nature. But I didn't want to interrupt their conversation so I minded my own business. They were preparing to leave when I overheard the waitress mention their military status even though they were in civilian attire. Seems they had the day off. The wife left first and then the "young" man got ready to leave. I looked over and honestly, I noticed him a lot because his stature and age reminded me of my own son Mike, and I paid extra close attention when I heard the word "military". Then without warning it happened.
This young man turned to me unexpectedly and said "Happy Veteran's Day Sir." I was caught completely off guard as I was in civilian dress, coat and tie. Then he touched the dog tag I wear around my neck and said "Army?" I said I was not a Veteran but I would accept his well wishes on behalf and in honor of my son SGT Mike Stokely who was a Veteran. "Where's he serving at?" Then I quietly told him Mike was killed in Iraq in 2005 by a roadside bomb. Then it happened.
This young man with as sincere a look as ever I had seen, confident at that, with an appreciative pride took my hand with a firm grasp - one that was secure firmness without hurting, and gently shook it and said "Thank You for your son's service and sacrifice." As our handshake came to an end, I told this young man Thank You for his service. Then he left. But you know what? I really didn't feel like he had left, for his presence, his confidence, his look said "I am here and always will be if you have need." I don't even know his name but I will never forget his face. His face is the face of those who serve, who stand in harm's way, who commit to the needs of others greater than their own. His face is like the face of my own boy, someone willing to give his life for America.
As I sat down and my food came, my emotions welled up, tears included. My food did not need salt after that. I felt envious to have missed out on the opportunity to serve and be rightfully called a Veteran. I have few real regrets in life, but seeing what military service and commitment is and what it means to those who serve, I truly regret never having taken the oath and worn the uniform.
Most of my future is behind me. It is too late for me to serve and wear the uniform. But I can serve those who do and I am honored when that opportunity comes my way. My boy left me a rich legacy and treasure trove of friends. In the wake of Mike's death, as I struggled with my emotions and grief, many more friends through the MilBlog world have come into my life and stood me up again. Mike's old unit allows me to serve in their Family Readiness Group and I have been honored to serve as a Survivor Advisor to the Army Chief of Staff. In the past year I was privileged to represent the Mike Stokely Foundation, Inc. as a part of fund raisers held by Chick-fil-A for a seriously wounded soldier and tomorrow two fund raiser through Chick-fil-A to benefit a three tour of duty Warrior who is battling cancer and fighting for his life. I wish Mike were here, but that was not a choice I got to make in the early morning hours of August 16, 2005 on a lonely road near Yusufiyah. I will die with a broken heart, but I wake up each day and remind myself throughout the day to choose to live life with as much joy and accept the many blessings that come my way because Mike died serving America - Romans 8:28 blessings I call them. Blessing like I write of above.
Today, another of those blessing - for a young soldier to confuse me as a Veteran, wow, what a vicarious moment rich with the taste of what it must be like to rightfully deserve that Honor. I'll never be called a Veteran in a rightful sense, but I am sure proud my boy can be.
It is late in the evening here in Atlanta area and I am about to head out on the 70 mile trip to Mike's grave to dress it up with new Patriotic flowers for Veteran's Day and then to put out American Flags for the fundraiser. I have had a long day and a long night to come, with another long day to follow with work and fund raisers tomorrow. But an energy burns within me that comes from a loving memory of my boy, what he gave and more importantly, who he is. Thank you to all those who have been on this journey with me since Mike died and the encouragement and support you have generously given.
And to those who wore the uniform, Thank You for your service and your family for their sacrifice.
DUTY HONOR COUNTRY
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely, Purple Heart and Bronze Star
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
US Army E 108 CAV 48th Brigade Combat Team Georgia National Guard