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LOP mourns Marine's death

Cpl. Sean Stokes killed by explosive in Iraq
By: Michelle Miller, Journal Features Editor
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U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Sean Stokes was always protecting somebody - whether it was the kid getting pushed around at school, his fellow Marines fighting alongside him in Iraq or his worrying parents back home. Stokes, 24, of Lake of the Pines, died Monday while on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He was killed after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Al Anbar province, family and friends said. Even down to his last days, Stokes was misinforming his parents so they wouldn't lose sleep over him being in danger. "I talked to him last week, he said he was on a cruise with the Marines seeing different countries and training," his father, Gary Stokes, said Friday. So when officials from the U.S. Marines knocked on his door Monday, Gary Stokes didn't believe the terrible news. "I told them you have the wrong Marine, wrong name, wrong place. We didn't know he was in Iraq," he said. "He was trying to protect us." Sean Stokes will be laid to rest today in Susanville alongside his grandfather, Bobby Stokes, an Army veteran who fought in the Korean War. Services will be held at 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Susanville. Family and friends said they would remember Stokes for his humility, courage and his passion for fishing. "Ever since he was a little guy he took to fishing and loved it. He'd always catch 10 more fish than anybody else," Gary Stokes said. "He was 10 or 12 when we lived in Alta Sierra, there was this pond. One day I went upstairs and he had put this 14-inch bass he caught in the bathtub." Sports were always a part of Sean's life. As a kid, he once knocked a pitch clear out of the Bear River High School's Little League diamond, landing on the street. In high school he played linebacker for the Bear River Bruins. "In High School, Sean was a big, tough kid. Anybody who picked on the little kids better watch out because Sean would knock their blocks off," Gary Stokes said. "He protected other kids. He believed in justice." His brother, Kevin Stokes, 18, recalled his older brother roughhousing with him, like brothers are apt to do. "You could always tell the only thing he wanted to do is make me smile," Kevin Stokes said. Stokes graduated from Bear River in 2001. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, he found a calling with the Marine Corps. He enlisted in 2002. While a private in the Marines, Stokes was featured in a History Channel documentary called "Shootout: Fallujah." Military historian Patrick O'Donnell also wrote about Stokes in his 2006 book, "We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah." O'Donnell's first impression of Stokes in the book was his resemblance to Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars." "He had presence," O'Donnell said Friday. "(His death) has affected me personally. I think he was one of the most noble people I ever met in my life." O'Donnell got to know Stokes in 2004 during his time embedded in the 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 1st Marine Regiment. The book gives a brutal account of the street battles in Fallujah that saw Stokes' platoon dwindle in number from 46 to 14. On Dec. 10, 2004, the platoon was involved in an alley grenade fight during the Battle of Fallujah. O'Donnell captured the action in his book as grenades were being hurled toward the Marines. O'Donnell said Stokes was wounded in the arm and legs from the attack. "It's mandatory for Marines to report their wounds and be evacuated," he said. "These were severe and caused him pain, but Sean purposefully hid the wounds to stay with his buddies." Sean was also put in danger when clearing houses in Fallujah. Stokes was the first person in the door going room by room looking for insurgents. "That's the most courageous thing to do," O'Donnell said. "Essentially, it's playing Russian roulette." O'Donnell and Stokes' fire team leader counted nine insurgents he killed. O'Donnell heard through his military connections that Stokes had been working as the personal security detachment for a battalion commander in Iraq. After a roadside bomb detonated near his convoy, Stokes and others returned to the scene to investigate Monday. That's when Stokes stepped on a pressure-loaded plate. "If Sean didn't step there, (the commander) would have," O'Donnell said. "He died in his battalion commander's arms." O'Donnell has recommended Stokes be awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery in action. Stokes will earn three Purple Hearts, he said, the last for his fatal wound. "He didn't have to go again," O'Donnell said of Stokes' third tour in Iraq. "That's the story of Sean's life. He was always sacrificing himself over everybody else." Stokes was humble when praised for his wartime deeds. "He'd say, 'Dad, I'm not the hero," Gary Stokes said. But Sean got his hero's welcome in 2005. In February 2005, Stokes' father attempted to hang a banner at the Lake of the Pines entry gate to welcome his son home from Iraq. The homeowners' association initially denied the banner citing their policy of only hanging signs that pertained to the entire community. The association later backed down and dozens of family members and well wishers turned out to welcome Stokes home on Feb. 5, 2005. The banner controversy and the homecoming were featured in the Journal at the time. Stokes, a shy, reserved young man, said he was overwhelmed by all the attention. "I'm surprised at the amount of support because people just hear the bad news. I didn't know people cared this much," he told the Journal in 2005. "We're just doing our job to keep bringing each other home." Sean went back for two more tours, feeling the need to carry the weight of his brothers in arms still fighting in Iraq, his father said. "He gave his life to help his brothers," Gary Stokes said. "They don't make the policy. They're doing what they're told to do. Please pray for our troops over there. We don't want any more beautiful kids coming home the way Sean is coming home." Sean is survived by his parents, Gary Stokes of Lake of the Pines and Rita Stokes of New York, stepmother Sue Stokes and brother Kevin Stokes. Sean was engaged to Sgt. Nicole Besier of the Marine Corps. The Journal's Michelle Miller can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com.