Surprised by Name Change of VFW
I played a part in naming our VFW after Sgt. 1st class Riley Stephens. While sitting in his parents’ home, I felt very proud of our decision. Knowing that we named our post after a real hero was an enormous blessing and feeling of gratitude.
Just days after the ceremony I was invited to his family’s home to get to know Riley through his fathers stories about him. That afternoon brought me closer to Riley Stephens. I never met him personally, but that meant very little. After several hours with his father, I felt like he was a buddy I used to do stupid crap with.
learning the local VFW was now named for his heroic son.
I asked Mick how he felt when he heard his son’s name called on the charter, “it was a flood of emotions”. I was completely oblivious and had no idea, that the members had voted to name this post “Riley Stephens Memorial Post.” until the ceremony.
I paid particular attention to his demeanor during the reading of the charter, and you could tell he was extremely proud.
When walking up to the post following our ruck march, he said he thought the tarp was covering a new sign designating us as a Purple Heart Post. He had no idea that his son’s name was in big bold letters on the new sign.
Memorials at Micks
Mick showed me around their home, and took me around their property. Outside their home is a memorial to not only Riley, but other service members from the area and others who were close to Riley. There are flags flying over the beautiful memorial and the light never dims on them. Surrounding the monument are steel cutouts of a helmet on top of an M-16 resting in boots. Each one has a name, rank and the date the individual made the ultimate sacrifice.
We had most of our conversation in Micks shop. There was a set of shelves devoted to Riley. With photos of him and his children, a cased flag, and scores of items and mementos devoted to keeping his memory alive. It was a special, yet sacred place, all for the sake of honoring a fallen hero.
Riley decided to serve his country as a young boy
Mick was very happy talking about his son and told me that Riley loved to play with his toy soldiers as a child. I asked him when it was that he realized the path Riley would eventually take. “it was his lifelong dream” and that the Army was the branch he wanted to go into.
As we closed our conversation, I had to ask if there was anything he could say to those who have lost loved ones. He told me that you never get over what happened, but eventually you learn to live with it. I felt honored that I got to spend an afternoon with a man who sacrificed so much, and gave his son for our nation.
Riley Stephens Memorial VFW Post 7835 is named so to not only honor the sacrifice of Riley, but to thank those who helped shape a great man. A man who lived 39 years, all with the hope of serving our nation. There are no words, but perhaps our actions of late can express our gratitude to his family, and display that Riley Stephens was a man loved and cherished by many.
Forrest Dale “Terry” Commander, III
FC3(SW), USN, Veteran