Veterans Day is an annual November holiday when Americans acknowledge and thank those who have served in the U.S. military. The 787th Military Police Battalion chose that day to highlight one of their own — Pvt. Eric Stinson — who touched the lives of many during his brief time as a trainee there.
Stinson was assigned to Company B when he found out he had cancer and passed away at 19 years old in 2019. His name and portrait were added to the battalion’s memorial wall Nov. 11.
Lt. Col. Wendy Tokach, 787th MP Bn. commander, called it a fitting tribute to a young person who said his dream was to be an MP.
“We honor all those who step forward to serve this great country,” she said. “While Pvt. Stinson’s time in the military — and life — was cut short, he stepped forward, and we can consider him one of our fellow Soldiers and a fellow veteran.”
Tokach said she received the Stinson request from one of Bravo Company’s drill sergeants — Staff Sgt. Cassandra Rodeheaver — during a road march a couple of months back.
Rodeheaver explained at the ceremony that Stinson was among her first cycle of trainees as a brand-new drill sergeant in 2018. She recalled the emotions she felt upon first seeing the future Soldiers she would be helping to mold.
“I didn’t know whether to feel excited, nervous or just plain anxious,” she said. “As the trainees rounded the corner with their bags, I felt it all.”
She said a few days into training, Stinson asked her if he could go to sick call because he was having “some serious pain in his shoulder.”
News came back that his shoulder was fractured, and that bone cancer was the cause. He was sent to St. Louis to begin treatments.
“I’ve dealt with cancer a lot in my family, as my brother had to fight leukemia his whole childhood,” Rodeheaver said, pausing to wipe tears from her eyes. “But this was something different for me because this was going to be one of my future leaders that I was transforming from civilian to Soldier.”
Rodeheaver visited Stinson in the hospital, along with her company commander, the battalion’s chaplain and “240 letters from his battle buddies.”
“I prayed these letters would give him something to do and uplift his spirits,” she said.
When she walked into Stinson’s hospital room, Rodeheaver said “his smile was contagious, and I couldn’t help but smile right back under that (drill sergeant) hat.”
“I was so caught off guard when he requested permission to speak, only to ask about how his battle buddies were doing,” she said.
As they were leaving, Stinson had one last question for Rodeheaver.
“‘Drill sergeant, when I make it out of here, I’ll be able to come back to Bravo and graduate with you, correct?’” she recalled. “I almost cried right then and there, but instead I cracked another smile and said, ‘Hell yeah.’”
A few weeks later, Stinson was transported to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where his cancer treatments would continue.
As the months passed, Rodeheaver said she was given updates on Stinson’s status. She had a close friend reach out to him on Facebook, as protocol does not allow for a drill sergeant to informally contact a trainee.
“He was so positive and full of life and said that he would hopefully be coming back to Fort Leonard Wood soon to finish BCT,” she said.
On Oct. 8, 2019, Rodeheaver was given the news that Stinson had passed away. She said his name will live on at Fort Leonard Wood, however, as Bravo Company renamed their Distinguished Leadership Award the Pvt. Stinson Award.
“On the toughest days of this job, I tend to think about Eric and just how hard he had to fight to stay here, and I know he’s watching over Bravo Company,” Rodeheaver said.
Tokach said she’s proud of Rodeheaver and everyone who chooses to make a point to remember Soldiers like Stinson.
“That’s how we never lose those who come before us,” she said. “We say their names; we remember them always.”