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Following The Moon, Dad Seeks Military Son's Resting Place

Jun 15, 2013
Originally published on June 15, 2013 4:40 pm

"While he was in Iraq, at night I couldn't sleep," Robert Stokely says of his son, Michael.

Sgt. Michael Stokely served in the Georgia Army National Guard. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

"I used to look at the moon a lot," Robert says, "and I told Mike, 'When you see the moon, know that eight hours later I'll see it too, and I'll think about you.' "

On Aug. 8, 2005, Michael called his father, and Robert asked if he would still be coming home in two weeks. "I can't take this anymore," he said.

"[Michael] said, 'I love you, and I'll see you soon.' And those were the last words I heard from him," Robert says.

Michael Stokely, 23, was killed by an improvised explosive device eight days after their conversation. He died on the side of the road.

"I felt guilty I wasn't there to hold him when he died and comfort him. I felt guilty I wasn't able to protect him," Robert says. "So, I just had to go there and see what this place looked like. I just wanted to see where my son died. And I couldn't live if I didn't go."

In November 2011, Robert flew to Iraq with a security team, staying in a safe house in Baghdad.

"I sat on the roof for hours, and I just looked at the moon overhead. And I thought, I am 16 miles away. I am so close," he says.

Robert wanted to put an engraved piece of marble at the site of his son's death. The next morning, the group passed through four checkpoints — but couldn't clear the fifth.

"It was just so dangerous they wouldn't let us through, and they turned us back. So we were unable to get there," he says. "I wanted to kneel where Mike fell and touch that spot. I didn't get to do that.

"Maybe God had a reason why I didn't go that last mile and a half, but I did get to ride some of the same roads Mike rode. So rather than feeling sorry that I didn't get there, I'm going to be happy that I got that close. I got close enough."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Yasmina Guerda.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time to check in with StoryCorps and another chapter from the Military Voices Initiative, honoring veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also their families.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: On this Father's Day weekend, we bring you the story of one dad's journey. Robert Stokely's son, Mike, served in the Georgia Army National Guard and deployed to Iraq in 2005. Robert came to StoryCorps to talk about waiting for his son's deployment to end.

ROBERT STOKELY: While he was in Iraq, at night I couldn't sleep. I used to look at the moon a lot, and I told Mike when you see the moon, know that eight hours later I'll see it too, and I'll think about you. August 8, 2005, he called me. I remember telling him are you still coming home in two weeks? I can't take this anymore. He said I love you and I'll see you soon. And those were the last words I heard from him.

Mike was struck by a roadside bomb and died there on the side of the road. I felt guilty I wasn't there to hold him when he died and comfort him. I felt guilty I wasn't able to protect him. So, I just had to go there and see what this place looked like. I just wanted to see where my son died. And I couldn't live if I didn't go. Our security team picked us up in Amman, Jordan and we flew into Baghdad the next day. That night, we stayed at a safe-house. I sat on the roof for hours, and I just looked at the moon overhead. I thought I am 16 miles away. I am so close.

I had an engraved piece of marble that weighed about 45 pounds. I just wanted to set it beside the road where my son breathed his last breath. And the next morning, we got up very early and we cleared four Iraqi army checkpoints. And we got to the fifth one, and it was just so dangerous they wouldn't let us through, and they turned us back. So, we were unable to get there. I wanted to kneel where Mike fell and touch that spot. I didn't get to do that. Maybe God had a reason why I didn't go that last mile and a half, but I did get to ride some of the same roads Mike rode. So, rather than feeling sorry that I didn't get there, I'm going to be happy that I got that close. I got close enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Robert Stokely, remembering his 2011 journey to Iraq to visit the place where his son, Sergeant Michael Stokely, was killed. His story was recorded in Atlanta as part of the Military Voices Initiative. Like all StoryCorps interviews, it is archived at the Library of Congress. You can download the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.