Robert Stokely’s son, Sergeant Michael Stokely, enlisted in the Georgia Army National Guard straight out of high school.
He deployed to Iraq in 2005, where he was killed by a roadside bomb.
At StoryCorps, Robert talked about paying tribute to his fallen son.
Click here for the transcript.
August 8th, 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 in Baghdad, we stayed at a safe house. 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.
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.
The next morning, we got up very early, and we cleared four Iraqi Army check-points. 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.