At Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Nov. 9, Americans proved that love and respect for our country’s military veterans runs deep.
At the beginning of the week, hardly anybody knew of Marine Corps Sgt. Leo Stokley. The 69-year-old Vietnam veteran passed away, leaving behind no biological family members.
A local funeral director set up burial arrangements for the veteran, expecting a very small number of people — if anyone — to attend his funeral.
But two days before the scheduled service, people began calling the funeral home, saying they would be there to honor Stokley.
The word about the unclaimed veteran spread after Facebook group U.S. Army WTF moments posted a call for attendance online, asking for people to ensure that the hero would not be buried alone.
“Yesterday morning, everything changed,” Funeral Director Alan Desmond told WKRN. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, the emails and the texts haven’t stopped since then.”
When Friday came, a huge crowd turned up in support of the veteran. Among them were the three women who had served as Stokley’s caregivers during his last months of life.
Tea Gray, Cay Cross and Samantha Anderson consider themselves to be Stokley’s family.
They were thrilled that so many strangers came to his funeral, spending the time laughing and reminiscing about the man they loved like family.
“He was one of our sweet eaters who always wanted chocolate chess pie,” Gray told WSMV.
Nashville resident Kay-Lynn Carew was also among the attendees, saying she heard about the event from her daughter.
“She knows I live here, I work here,” said Carew. “She said can you show up, I said heck yeah I can show up.”
On Friday, Carew became an honorary member of Stokley’s family, too.
“When you hear about a veteran, and nobody’s gonna be there, somebody’s gotta be there,” Carew said.
“Lots of people forget, there’s a lot of veterans that don’t have any families left. We’re all the family, we’re Americans, we’re the family.”
Cross said that Stokley would have loved seeing the wave of supporters at Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.
“I can say we were his family,” said Gray. “He became our family.”
Rest in peace, Marine.
Editor’s Note: Other outlets are spelling this veteran’s name as Stokely. His obituary spells it Stokley and was used as such in this report.
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