Remembering John Stalvey
By BJ Bennett
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
When's life's rigidity allows us to take a moment to think about our fallen heroes, remembering who they were, even sometimes more than what they did, might often be the proper frame of reference.
Cpl. John Stalvey didn't always have a rank before his name. Before he was accomplished and respected as a soldier, he was loved as the middle child of three; an older brother to sister Cristen and a younger brother to the slightly-elder Matt. Born in Jacksonville but raised in southeast Georgia, John's affable personality and growing passion for life paralleled his upbringing. His foundation was one deep-rooted in faith and family, persistence and pride. Even before he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps, his impact on those around him was honest and steadfast.
Like any southern boys, John and Matt were raised fishing, hunting and learning about life in the outdoors. Just 21 months apart, the brothers stuck together like grass on the skin of a summer landscaper. What Matt did, John did the same. Where Matt went, John soon followed. Brothers in blood but also in bond, the Stalvey's were simply best buddies with the same last name and street address.
"My brother and I had a great relationship. We were very close all our lives. I've seen siblings that were not very close and it's really sad. John and I did everything together. We spent all the time we could out in the woods or at a pond somewhere. We used to go do the dumbest stuff and film it and we were probably the only ones who thought it was funny sometimes," Matt explained of his feelings for his brother John. "Of course as brothers close in age we had our share of fights. No one ever hardly knew but us because we were back to being tight in no time. Of course one of the first things John did when he became a marine was jump on me his older brother, just to show me I was finally no match. It was a headlock I won't forget."
For Mom Crystal Merillat, the friendship was a joy to watch.
"From the time that Matt and John were very young they were best friends. John was the youngest and he always looked up to Matt but together growing up they fostered and perpetuated integrity, intellect and a sense of duty between themselves," she reflected.
As John grew, so did his interests. In addition to his affinity for sports, basketball being amongst his favorites, Stalvey had a notable artistic side and a penchant for expression. His personality could be seen through his drawings and, more so, his sculptures. Among his creations, a bust of a colonial soldier he fittingly called "Patriot" which he gave to his aunt and uncle.
His future in his sights, Stalvey's plans were starting to take shape as a young adult. He looked ahead, smile on his face, and saw options and opportunity. A routine change of the channel on September 11, 2001, offered a much different perspective. The 9/11 terrorists attacks, and the sheer devastation and horror that came with, struck John at his core. A young man with his life laid out before him, he, like many others, felt a powerful calling in the days that followed. Strong in faith and in principle, Stalvey believed it was his responsibility to protect his family, friends and his country. He selflessly acted on that urge. In March of 2002, he began Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island.
"From the time that John was very young he had three loves in his life: God, country and sports. He played sports all of his life, whole-heartedly and full of focus. When he joined the Marine Corps after the 9/11 attacks he had the same dedication to courage, honor and commitment," Merillat explained.
Stalvey's military career took him across the globe. He served tours in Cuba, Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq. His first overseas assignment after completing sniper school, however, would ultimately prove to be his last.
On October 3rd, 2005, Stalvey's humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device. Reports suggest that his spot, a seat that normally wasn't his and he volunteered to take that trip, took the brunt of the explosion. He was there killed in action in Karabilah, Iraq while serving in Operation Iron Fist as a Scout Sniper assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejune, North Carolina. John was just 22 years old.
Back at home, those close to John struggled to cope. A life taken so young left a glaring void in the lives of many from Georgia out west to Texas. Loved ones grasped for answers, often left clinging to memories and memoirs instead. The once-shining gleam of John's unmistakeable glance had dimmed into a dark, dated headstone.
"We got through it with friends, family and faith in our God," Matt added.
As startling as the news of John's death was, the change in his life's direction was nearly just as sudden. From bright-eyed boy to a man who had seen the worst of war, John's story was one guided by what he felt was his duty and what he saw as a calling of service to others. For a thoughtful young high school graduate, there were many paths to prosperity ahead of him. John, though, chose to walk before the shadow of the valley of death.
"All three of my children were unique in their own ways but I would describe John as very loving, compassionate and he genuinely cared about others. He was a young man of strong character who demonstrated devotion to God, family and country," Merillatt concluded.
John's life ended. His story and legacy has not. That tale is now one told by mother Crystal, sister Cristen and brother Matt. It's an everlasting parable of the American spirit, the bittersweet embodiment of the best our country and our ideals represent. His family honors him with, among other remembrances, a shadowbox displaying John's Marine uniform. Whether we realize or not, the rest of us thank him by simply living our lives. As petty as that may be, chances are he wouldn't have it any other way.
If and when's life's rigidity allows us to take a moment to think about our fallen armed servicemen and women, remembering who they were, even sometimes more than what they did, might often be the proper frame of reference. Young men like John give moments of silence a face. Nearly seven years after his death, his friends and family give him a voice.
"John is still a huge part of my life. I think about him every day and miss him tremendously. I try to remember his example of being a strong and honorable person. I want to emulate how genuine he was and the heart he had for Christ. The promise that I will see him again one day is what helps keep me going," Matt added.
When John Stalvey became a Marine, he undoubtedly became an American hero. Even then, he remained a son and a brother as well. All three are distinctions he carries with him to this day.
Saturday, June 2nd at 7pm at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick, the first-ever "Cpl. John R. Stalvey Celebrity Basketball Game" will be held. Various former college and professional athletes will play in a friendly exhibition against a combination of the Mariner men's and women's teams. Donations are being asked at the door; all proceeds will benefit Warrior's Weekend later this summer.