There are few things more beautiful than the United States Flag waving in a cool breeze against a bright blue fall sky. I stood this morning with just such a scene in front of me. The air was warm but with just a hint of the winter ahead in it. It felt like a perfect fall day. Around me were hundreds of people; thousands more lined the street in each direction. People of many different ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds all congregated together. There was some laughter and light-hearted conversation, but that faded quickly as it grew closer to 1015. By the time the processional appeared down the road, there was a rare silence in the air that seemed out of place with a crowd that size. It was the silence that respect, pride and sorrow bring to this type of occasion.
I never knew Cpl. Stephen Sockalosky. Chances are that most or all of those around me did not know him either. Regardless of that, there was a shared sense of loss. Cpl. Sockalosky was a United States Marine. He died from wounds he received in Afghanistan on October 6th. Today Cpl. Sockalosky’s body was brought here to Robins Air Force Base to be taken back to his hometown of Cordele, GA. Anyone who has known a Marine knows the kind of esprit de corps that is common among them. They take pride in being Marines and in all that stands for. Robins Air Force Base recently became the host installation for two Marine units: Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 773 and Detachment A, Marine Aircraft Group 49. [See this link for more information] Today the Robins Air Force Base and Middle Georgia shared in that pride and helped welcome home a hero.
As I stood with the crowd, waiting for the processional, I let my thoughts drift to Cpl. Sockalosky. I wondered what type of man he had been, what his favorite things to do were and how his life journey had led him into the Marine Corps and across the world. I wondered to myself why so many people who didn’t know this young man were still showing up to pay their respects. As I did, it occurred to me that we each owed this young man and his family some form of thanks. The freedoms we enjoy every day have a very high and very sad price.
The birds were singing today. High overhead an airliner passed by. The beautiful fall day around all of us stood in such stark contrast to the mourning we all felt in our hearts for Cpl. Sockalosky. His family will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. The thousands gathered to pay respect and hundreds of Patriot Guard riders with dozens of law enforcement officers escorting the processional caused an incredible mix of emotions in me. I don’t know that there has been a greater mix of joy and sorrow in my heart in a great while. Pride in what this great country stands for and what our men and women in uniform sacrifice for us; sorrow for their suffering and loss on fields so far from home.