View Full Version : Patoka payes tribute to Marine

04-20-04, 01:45 PM
Patoka payes tribute to Marine
By Robert Goodrich
Of the Post-Dispatch

PATOKA, Ill. - Those who had known Lance Cpl. Torrey Stoffel-Gray all of his life, and those who knew him only as a Marine, came to Patoka Monday to pay tribute to his spirit.

Speaker after speaker at his funeral recalled him as a great friend and a great Marine. Stoffel-Gray, 19, was killed in combat April 11 in Iraq.

"He was like a little brother to me," recalled Marine Cpl. Sonny Cosper, who was Stoffel-Gray's first fire team leader at the Twenty-nine Palms Marine Base in California.

Stoffel-Gray was only 17 when he arrived at Twenty-nine Palms, and Cosper asked him: "Do your mom and dad know you're here?"

But Cosper said Stoffel-Gray quickly proved himself. Though Stoffel-Gray knew his job as a frontline rifleman might cost him his life, he was willing to pay that price, Cosper said. "It's something a lot of people are not willing to do."

About 300 people attended the service at First United Pentecostal Church in Patoka, a village of 600 about 60 miles east of St. Louis.

Many others, many of them children holding American flags, lined the five-mile route from the church to Pratt Cemetery.

A mile from the cemetery, Stoffel-Gray's flag-draped casket was transferred to a caisson drawn by a four-horse team for a final, solemn march.

Directly behind marched a 15-member Marine honor guard in dress blue uniforms, including a six-member rifle squad and a bagpiper.

They were followed by a squad from Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Springfield, Ill., a military school credited with giving Stoffel-Gray positive direction.

At the funeral service, speakers described Stoffel-Gray as a mischievous youth whose life found great purpose at Lincoln's Challenge and in the Marine Corps.

As a Marine, Stoffel-Gray became known throughout the battalion as someone who made everyone laugh and as a scrappy competitor, Cosper said. Smaller than average at 5 feet 8 and about 160 pounds, "He never backed down."

Cosper and Stoffel-Gray were together in Iraq a year ago for the invasion. Stoffel-Gray was serving his second tour when he was killed.

In the end, Cosper said, "Torrey gave the ultimate sacrifice - for the Iraqi people, too. Once you fight for it, freedom is so much sweeter."

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn compared Stoffel-Gray to those who died for their nation at Gettysburg. Stoffel-Gray was true to the Marine motto "Semper fidelis," he added. "That's why he went to Iraq not once - but twice."

Quinn said: "He stood his ground. He fought the fight. And in the end, he gave his life."

A friend from Patoka, Seth Lewis, quoted the Marines' Hymn. Another, Matt Thompson, read a tribute to Stoffel-Gray's life.

The pastor at First Pentecostal, the Rev. James Bucy, conducted the funeral and noted that Stoffel-Gray had found God about two years ago.

Bucy said, "He lived and he died for our freedom." He quoted passages from Psalms and the New Testament, including Jesus' words, "Greater love hath no man than he that layeth down his life for his friend."

Bucy concluded, "I've always wanted to see this church full of people. I just didn't want to see it this way." Attendees packed the sanctuary and an adjacent hall where the proceedings were shown on a big-screen TV.

Details about how Stoffel-Gray was killed have not been disclosed, although family members said he was shot in the neck. He was awarded the Purple Heart. It was presented to the stepfather who reared him.

Among the survivors are his mother, Mary Stoffel; his stepfather, Gary Stoffel; three brothers, Brandon Stoffel-Gray, Russell Stoffel and Blake Stoffel; grandparents, a great-grandmother and fiancee Kari Atchison.

Reporter Robert Goodrich
E-mail: rgoodrich@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 618-235-8919



Rest In Peace