When we talk about supporting our veterans, this is what we mean.
Marine Sgt. Leo Stokley, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee served his country in Vietnam but he spent the last few months of his life alone.
When Stokely died, no family members came to the Waters of Cheatham nursing home to gather his belongings. No close friends gathered to share memories of his life.
His only acquaintences were the nursing home staff.
“He was one of our sweet eaters who always wanted chocolate chess pie,” caregiver Tea Gray told WSMV.
When Stokley was buried at the Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, no one expected a large crowd. By the time the chaplain spoke the first words, the chapel was packed.
Boyd’s Funeral Home and the Veterans Administration had spread the word about Stokely’s funeral. Instead of a lonely, uneventful service, it was packed with supporters who had never met the former Marine, yet drove hours to pay their respects.
Gray and her coworkers, Cay Cross and Samantha Anderson, sat in the front row.
“A lot of people wouldn’t understand that he had nobody, but he had us,” said Gray. “He had us.”
“I was just so happy that there were so many people who showed up,” added Cross. “He would’ve loved it.”
“I can say we were his family,” said Gray. “He became our family.”
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Throughout Stokley’s last few months alive, he shared a few personal moments with the Waters of Cheatham staff. When his favorite Journey song came on the radio, he asked Anderson to turn it up.
“Don’t Stop Believing!” Anderson said.
Stokley’s story is one the small Tennessee community will never forget. Certainly, they have never stopped believing in supporting their veterans.
Learn more in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.