Tuesday, April 24, 2007

From Thunder Run: Stokely Family Continues to Give

He was named Bubba at an early age by his younger brother who couldn't say "brother". When she first talked, she shortened it even more to Bubs. He was 23 and she was soon to be 13 as she watched her oldest brother march to war.

Three months later, she sat front row in the Georgia State Capitol Rotunda as local and national media snapped her picture during the Governor's Prayer Vigil for the State's recent heavy losses of its National Guard soldiers. Her brother, a Georgia National Guard member, had just been killed two days earlier by a road side bomb. Then, less than a week later, with media again looking on, she sat on the stage of her county's new Performing Arts Center as her brother was honored in a Memorial Service attended by 900 even before his body returned home from Iraq.

A few days later, as her brother's flag draped casket arrived home, she rode in the family SUV, at times standing through the sun roof waving an American Flag as thousands lined the highway to welcome her brother home. As if that wasn't enough, the next day she stood tall and poised as she greeted nearly a thousand guests at the funeral home visitation. Her brother was the first family member she would bury as she wept bitterly as a 21 gun salute volleyed, the mournful sound of TAPS played, and the Honor Guard folded the flag that had draped his casket.

Her life was now changed forever, for the brother who was to teach her how to drive, chase away her first boyfriend, be there to cheer at her graduation, and be an uncle to her children had given his life for the country and family he loved so very much. Being a teenage girl emerging to a young lady is hard on a good day. But with such, she had to do all this while being thrust into a public spotlight.

Then, just four months after her brother's death, tragedy struck as she almost lost her own life and in that same instant thought her dad had died as well when a car ran a stop sign, T-boned them in her door, sheering it off and they rolled and flipped end over end. Momentarily unconscious, she awoke and screamed out "Dad, are you all right" as severe pain racked her body. EMTs quickly strapped her to a back board and rushed her to a trauma center with head, neck and back injuries. Even at that, she called out continually "dad, are you o.k., is that really my dad up there - is he o.k." Fortunately, the hospital stay was brief for the concussion that she suffered but it took a year for her to make it back 95% from the neck and back injuries.

Her activities were limited - she had danced competitively since she was three, and now that was gone due to her injuries. She couldn't do the simple physical task of even carrying her own book bag and had to sit in awkward positions and in constant pain, yet she never let her academics slip. On weekends she remained at home for what fun is it to sit in the corner racked with pain and unable to do the slightest physical stress that goes with the typical fun activities at her teenage girlfriends' parties.

As if this were not enough, her life was to change again, for the beloved pit bull, Patches, one of her fallen brother's two dogs, died. She had adopted Patches even as Mike was leaving for Iraq and promised him to faithfully care for her. But, her best care, even that of the Vet, was no match for the cancer that took Patches. She had come to love Patches so, and the love was mutual, as Patches slept in her room and ever watching this sister's every move. When Patches died, this sister's words of good bye were simple, "she wasn't just my brother's dog, she was my best friend and I loved her."

All this in a span of nine months.

Then High School began as she entered the ninth grade. A welcome turn in her life, a good change for this sister, now 14. Further along in her recovery, the doctor allowed her to swim. She swam in the family's small backyard pool, and a nearby larger public pool that had lanes for swimming exercise and therapy. As winter set in, she would go to a heated pool. She progressed enough that the doctor let her try out for the high school swim team, even though she labored with pain from the accident. But, even in the pain, a smile had returned to her face.

Tonight, April 23, 2007 - nearly two years after her brother marched to war, she stood on the very same stage where she had sat at his Memorial Service 88 weeks before and presented the Mike Stokely Foundation Scholarship to a deserving high school senior. This fallen soldier's sister was poised and comfortable as she spoke to a crowd of 500 plus, including close family friends Cindy and Rodney B. This was not her first time speaking in front of a crowd as she had given the family remarks at the dedication of a roadway in her brother's honor last October 6 as hundreds, including State political figures and a US Congressman, looked on.

Tonight, as then, this fallen soldier's sister spoke proudly of his service and what he stood for as she presented a scholarship to a senior who had once been an honor student until a car wreck had caused optic nerve damage that led to the student losing enough academic ground that she fell out of the running for academic scholarships. To say the least, this student is the type person this sister's fallen brother, SGT Mike Stokely, would have wanted to reach out and help go to college. So, in his honor and stead, she proudly did it for him. In the weeks to come, she will give out three more scholarships, including one at her brother's high school in Loganville Georgia.

It has been 89 weeks since SGT Mike Stokely died, and he would be ever so proud of his sister. No doubt, I am as well. But, I am left with but one question - what did I ever possibly do to deserve the blessing of three such fine children in my life? If ever you needed proof of God's kindness and unconditional love, then here you have it.


Robert Stokely
proud dad Abbey Stokely
Wesly Stokely and
SGT Mike Stokely KIA 16 Aug 05 near Yusufiyah US Army E 108 CAV 48 BDE GAARNG

H/T Thunder Run

1 comment:

Brian said...

Kat;
Here's a link to another Kat --

http://vernondent.blogspot.com/2006/09/youll-never-know-what-we-did.html

Or actually, a friendofKat.

B.