I don’t really do much in the way of celebrating Veterans Day. I have in the past, but I just don’t do much nowadays. I had just come off a week-long vacation, so I honestly just needed some downtime by myself, and I took it. Socially I tend to prefer small groups in small doses, so when I recharge, I even turn the phone off. So, I didn’t talk to any of my military buddies on Veterans Day, but for the simple reason that I talk to them the other 364 days a year. As one PNC was oft to say, “Every day is Veterans Day.”
But two of my friends ended up on TV, and both of them did a phenomenal job, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share them. The first is Alex Horton, who in addition to being a sometimes drinking companion of mine on my infrequent trips to DC is also a military blogger for the VA. I was honored when he asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him, and while it probably hurt him since his then-boss didn’t care much for me, I was so very proud of having been asked. Before I met Alex I knew him from the blogosphere, and we’d even competed for Blogger of the Year, so I was naturally predisposed towards competing with him and viewing him as my online nemesis. And then I met him, and it was like meeting a brother you didn’t know you had. Our differences in blogging perspective and politics was immediately overcome by our shared circumstances as Infantrymen who were now bloggers. I’m proud to know him (honestly, proud) and watching this video he did for CBS made me well up a little bit.
Meanwhile, Headline News also ran a piece on Veterans Day that I admit I haven’t been able to make it through yet. My emotions watching it run too hot. But, I made it about half way, and I will finish it, it will just take some time. (For the same reason I havdn’t made it through “Taking Chance” or “RESTREPO” yet either.) This one deals with an organization I am on the Board of Trustees for (Soldiers Angels) and two men that I have had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with, Gold Star Dad Robert Stokely, and fellow Infantryman, Toby Nunn.
How far would a father go to honor his son? After Army Sgt. Michael Stokely was killed in action, his father Robert set out on a journey like no other. He wanted to go to Iraq — half a world away — to visit the site of his son’s last moments on earth. It is an unforgettable pilgrimage of danger, determination, unbroken promises and undying love.
Mr Stokely lost his son in Iraq, and was determined to go to the place where his son succumbed to his wounds. He contacted Blackfive.net, and Soldiers Angels, and despite the odd request, they made it happen. I met Mr Stokely about a year and a half ago, and he was every bit as nice as he comes off in this video. I watched him at the Wounded Warrior Barracks down at Brooke Army Medical Center, and he was playing with a young girl of about 5 or 6. Even as others around him enjoyed some BBQ, Mr Stokely was on a little hill with the young girl, playing, laughing and even rolling down the hill with her. It was incredibly touching, and I felt so bad that he had lost his son. My wife and I just watched him play, and it was so touching I kept getting choked up.
Meanwhile, his companion on the trip, my friend Toby is no less wonderful. When I went to Austin last year and found out that my hotel reservations were off by a day, leaving me with a $200 one-night stay, or come up with alternate accomodations, Toby leaped in and asked if I wanted to stay at his house. We sat there and talked for hours while I played with his Golden/Poodle mix and looked out over the woods that back up to his house. Although we served in different units, it was much like with Alex, the brotherhood of Infantrymen was strong. I could say a lot about my friendship with Toby, but the best way to know him is to hear what he thought about his trip to Iraq with Mr Stokely:
I remember standing in the Atlanta Airport with Robert, looking at him staring out the window into the darkness and airport lights and thinking to myself, it’s this dedication to children and loved ones that I aspire to. It was a pill hard to swallow for me, as that very day was my daughter’s fourth birthday and with deployments and other issues I should be with her. However, I knew this journey would some how make me a better man and father.
That first step on the jetway was just like taking that first step outside the wire during my combat tours. It was “ON” and nothing would turn that switch off but bringing Robert home to his family and community — and within that all of us would find some healing. The journey was a mixture of scary times and moments of sheer disbelief at how lucky I was to be part of such an inspiring journey. I still feel, to this day, so incredibly undeserving of getting to be part of this story.
Robert has changed my life and I will always see this trip as proof to myself that I am a good father, and truly worthy of being called an American.
Two wonderful men, two wonderful stories. And more importantly to me, two wonderful friends that help me know I’m never alone in what I have to deal with.
(NOTE: For some reason HLN took down the full video that they had up. I am led to understand it will be on TV again, and I will share when it is up.)