Memorial honors Georgia's fallen
by Wes Mayer
The opening for the memorial exhibit 'Remembering Our Fallen' had a large turnout of local families, friends, veterans and Nat iona l Guardsmen at the Jackson-Pless Armory on Sunday.
'Remembering Our Fallen' is a traveling exhibit honoring the 200 Georgia men and women who lost their lives serving in the U.S. military since 9/11. The exhibit will be viewable at the Armory next to Newnan High School until Friday. Because it is sponsored locally by the Iron Fist Chapter of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club, the exhibit is free of charge throughout the week.
On Sunday, the National Guardsmen at the Armory and the company's commander, Capt. Aaron Holt, hosted the opening ceremony, which began at 1:30 p.m. During the ceremony, the fathers of three fallen soldiers spoke about their sons and the importance of remembering them. The fallen soldiers' families were honored as Gold Star Families.
Jimmy Whitlock, the father of Capt. Nicholas Schade Whitlock of Newnan, was the first to speak. Nick Whitlock, 29, lost his life on Feb. 18, 2012, when his U-28 aircraft crash landed near Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Three other men, Capt Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo., 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Ore., and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., also died in the crash.
Jimmy Whitlock shared his memories of Nick before and after Nick joined the Air Force in 2006. Nick was always determined to succeed in everything, his father said, and Nick was active in numerous sports at Newnan High School, including football and baseball. Nick's coaches were always very fond of him and amazed by his character, his father said.
'There is no finer son a man could have,' Jimmy Whitlock said. 'We are so proud he served our country and made a difference.'
Robert Stokely, father of Sgt. Michael J. Stokely, from Sharpsburg, was the next to speak about his son. Michael Stokely was 23 years old when he was killed on Aug. 16, 2005, in Iraq. While on patrol south of Baghdad, Stokely stepped on an improvised explosive device that fatally injured him. Stokely was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
Three other Georgians from Stokely's unit – Sgt. Thomas Strickland, 27, of Douglasville, Spc. Joshua Dingler, 19, of Hiram, and Sgt. Paul Saylor, 21, from Bremen – were killed in the same week when their vehicle overturned during combat.
Robert Stokely spoke on the importance of remembering all those who served in the military, not only the fallen, but the living as well. The 'Remembering Our Fallen' wall is a tribute to the fallen soldiers, but also to everyone who continues to serve, he said. Stokely also shared a few memories about the character of his son, who joined the National Guard as a junior in high school.
'I'm proud of my son,' Stokely said. 'Losing him was tough, but never having had him would be unimaginable. I will always have Mike Stokely. I just won't have him here with me.'
Steve Spates, father of Sgt. Corey Emmett Spates, 21, of LaGrange, was the last to speak at the opening ceremony. Corey Spates was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq during his second tour of duty on Feb. 10, 2008. There were multiple casualties from the bomb.
Steve Spates shared how much his son loved everyone. Corey loved his wife, his mom and dad, his faith and his country. But he also loved the people of Iraq. When they would send care packages to Corey, he would write back for them to send care packages for the kids, too, Steve Spates said.
After the three fathers spoke, 'Taps' was played, and starting with the Gold Star Families, those in attendance were able to tour the 'Remember Our Fallen' wall and see the photos of the 200 Georgia men and women who have lost their lives.
There are four more men from Coweta County who have lost their lives in the war on terror.
Lance Cpl. Jeffery S. Blanton, 23, who grew up in Senoia, was killed in combat on Dec. 12, 2004. Blanton was one of seven men killed in Iraq's Anbar province during Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Military Times. Blanton was actually killed two days after he was released from the hospital for a previous gunshot wound – Blanton lost three toes and had an opportunity to return home, but chose to stay and fight.
PV2 Colman Joseph Meadows, 19, of Senoia, died from non-combat-related injuries on Dec. 16, 2008, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Meadows graduated from Northgate High School in 2007, joined the army in 2008 and was assigned as a special electronic devices repairman.
Spc. Chad Derek Coleman, 20, of Moreland, was killed on Aug. 27, 2010, in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan when a command-wired improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle, according to the Military Times. Private Adam Jacob Novak, 20, of Prairie Du Sac, Wis., was also killed in the blast.
Spc. Adrian G. Mills, 23, of Newnan, was killed when his unit was attacked by insurgent's indirect fire on Sept. 29, 2011, in Kirkuk, Iraq. Mills graduated from Northgate High School in 2007 and was in the 272nd Military Police Company.