TOLAR (CBS 11 NEWS) – Nearly an entire town gathered Wednesday night to honor a soldier lost in one of America’s fights.
Sergeant Riley Gene Stephens, a Special Forces Army Medic, was 39 when an enemy in the Middle East shot and killed him.
Sgt. Stephens grew up in Tolar, a city in Hood County with a population of 688.
He died in Afghanistan Friday, wounded by gunfire.
The town met for a candlelight vigil to remember him.
His father remembers how he first heard about his son’s death.
“When my wife told me the military was here. I knew,” said Michael Stephens.
Michael Stephens, known as Mick, said his son left him a letter, which he opened this very day.
“If I’m reading this, it means I didn’t make it back. Told me to suck it up. Make him proud,” the father said.
Riley had already made him proud with his many military honors and accomplishments.
His stepmother, JoAnne Stephens said, “He wanted to protect the county and wanted to protect people who couldn’t protect themselves.”
But he was also known as a bit of a rascal.
“He was exasperating sometimes and hard headed and determined and I said he loved his daddy,” JoAnne said and then began to cry.
Michael Stephens reached over and touched her arm and whispered, “Suck it up.”
Father and son had always been close.
“He told me every day that he loved me. He called me every day. He told me how awesome I was.”
Riley Stephens was every bit his father’s son and a warrior. He was deployed 5 times. He volunteered for deployment 2 more times.
He had no regrets.
“He wouldn’t change a thing,” his father said. He only wanted to serve his country.
“He will be missed forever and ever,” said JoAnne.
“He died so we could be standing here today,” said one of the speakers at his candlelight vigil.
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