Sean A. Stokes
From Kevin Ferris - Philidelphia
From a State of the Union that won't be much quoted, a line for
the military that can't be repeated enough:
"In the past year, you have done everything we've asked of you,
and more. Our nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of
Take the case of one Marine, Sean A. Stokes of California. On
Wednesday, his 25th birthday, he will be awarded the Silver Star
for courage demonstrated during the hand-to-hand, street-fighting
nightmare that was the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004.
The honor will be presented posthumously.
Stokes was killed by an IED blast on July 30, 2007, while on
security detail during his third deployment to Iraq. His longtime
friend Brad Adams also was injured, but survived. Stokes died in
the arms of the battalion commander whose life he had saved.
Stokes' heroics on the battlefield were amply recorded in Patrick
O'Donnell's book We Were One and the History Channel documentary
Shootout: Fallujah. Equally impressive was his struggle to remain
in uniform, to stay and fight beside his fellow Marines.
During 12 days of urban combat in Fallujah, Lima Company's First
Platoon fought house by house. Stokes was on point, kicking in the
doors, never knowing whether an ambush awaited.
He described the job in Shootout:
"At each house I said a prayer, 'Please, God, get me out of this
one.' When I come out of the house, I thank him, light up a
cigarette and move on to the next one."
He was wounded twice.
The first time was in an alley when his platoon was driven back by
a grenade assault. Stokes took some shrapnel - again, with Brad
Adams - but he kept up return fire, allowing his buddies to pull
back safely. Stokes hid his wounds, fearing a mandatory evacuation.
He wouldn't abandon his platoon.
Days later, First Platoon was entering yet another house. Lance
Cpl. Philip Peterson later told O'Donnell: "There were four open
doors, a stairwell, and one closed door. It was a black door on a
black wall. It was the creepiest looking thing I've ever seen.
Stokes and I looked at this door, and we both said: 'We'll save
that one for last.' "
But the door opened and an AK47 poked out, firing at knee level.
The Marines returned fire, and as the door was shut, a grenade
The blast sent the 6-foot Stokes flying. "It was like being hit
with a bowling ball," he said later. There was more enemy fire,
more grenades. The Marines scrambled to get out, but another blast
knocked Stokes down again. Once outside, the platoon noticed he
wasn't with them.
He was on the floor of the house, firing back at an enemy that was
closing in. He ran out of ammo. The enemy was still firing, still
lobbing grenades his way.
Lance Cpl. Heath Kramer finally crashed through a door behind
Stokes, who was woozy and disoriented from the succession of
blasts, and dragged him outside.
Earning two Purple Hearts and the admiration of his peers wasn't
enough to clear Stokes' record. A second tour of Iraq brought a
promotion, but the threat of discharge remained. He was offered a
seven-month extension, with a third deployment, but after that he
would be out.
Gary Stokes advised his son to turn down the extension.
"You done your part, buddy," he told Sean. "You don't need to do
He was taken aback by Sean's angry, vehement response.
"I have to support all those guys," Sean told his dad. "We have to
support them all. I have to make sure I hold up my end of the
bargain as long as I can."
Stokes didn't want his family to worry, so he misled them about
the deployment. He said he would be aboard ship, probably in the
Gary Stokes didn't learn that Sean was actually in Iraq until the
knock on the door at 6:30 a.m. on July 30.
"Following your dreams shouldn't kill you, but it killed Sean.
It's really just tragic," says O'Donnell, who befriended Stokes and
helped draft the Silver Star recommendation.
Neither a medal, nor a nation's thanks, can compensate for such a
loss or fully honor such devotion and self-sacrifice. At best, we
can promise to never forget, and determine to support all those
guys, to hold up our end of the bargain as long as we can.