Funeral services held for soldier killed in Afghanistan

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(Host) Funeral Services were held Saturday in White River Junction for Master Sergeant Tom Stone.

The Vermont National Guard medic was killed last month in a firefight in Afghanistan.

Stone friends say he had an appetite for big adventures and lasting friendships.

VPR’s Steve Zind visited some of those who knew him best.

(Zind) For most of his fifty-two years, Tom Stone didn’t stay in one place long.

He joined the Army after graduating from Woodstock High School.

After that he traveled the country. He was a rancher and a logger. He worked on oil rigs and he worked with handicapped children.

He made many lifetime friends along the way.

(Man) “Wait a minute, I just thought about the other story “

(Zind) Stone’s funeral brought a group of his friends together at his cousin Sally Britton’s Norwich home.

They describe a man who enjoyed telling stories, but could go hours without saying a word. He liked solitude, but made friends easily.

Stone’s passions included cutting firewood and reciting poetry.

His longtime friend Alice Smith says she might not see him for long periods of time, but the bond between them remained strong.

(Smith) “You know, I think he had such a close relationship with each of his friends. Even if you weren’t sure when you were going to see him again, you were just sure he was there. I still feel that.”

(Zind) The friends say Stone always stayed in touch with phone calls and letters and each has a story of him showing up unexpectedly after a long absence.

(Friends) “He would appear unannounced, uninvited.”
“All hours of the day and night. “
“Exactly. Just when you needed him the most.”
“Prepared to stay for five minutes if he didn’t think you wanted him around or five months if he thought you did.”

(Zind) In 1992 Stone stepped from his doorway and didn’t return until he’d walked around the world. It took him eight years to make the twenty two thousand mile trek.

Sally Britton says Stone liked to say he made the journey because he could.

(Britton) “Plus he read a book about some guy that did it. And he was really irritated that he didn’t think of it before the guy did it. He wanted to be the first one to do it.”

(Zind) His friends say the walk settled Stone a little. When he returned to Vermont he fell in love.

Rose Loving had met Stone years earlier when Loving’s daughter Sage Lewis was seven.

As a child Lewis says she was drawn to Stone’s playfulness and spontaneity. A simple errand with Stone often turned into an adventure.

(Lewis) “It was like everything on a whim, just having a great time. He was just like an instant friend.”

(Zind) Even after he and Loving made a life together, Stone wasn’t finished with the world.

Friends say all his life Stone had tried to make a difference. Serving in the National Guard in Afghanistan gave him another opportunity.

Stone set up a rural medical clinic inside a shipping container.

He persuaded the elders of one village to allow treatment for women and girls.

He was awarded medals for valor in combat, but he was embarrassed by the praise of his guard leaders .

When he came home for a short leave, Stone visited the families of soldiers deployed overseas. Rose Loving said she knew that being with Stone meant sharing him.

(Loving) “For Tom, there was always time to sit down and talk or share or do something for someone. He never had an agenda that was too busy to fit people in.”

(Zind) Stone signed up for three consecutive deployments. He was killed in an attack on a coalition base in Southern Afghanistan.

Stone would have finished his last deployment this summer. For the first time in his life, he seemed ready to settle down.

Rose Loving says last spring, Stone bought a young apple tree and planted it behind their Tunbridge house.

(Loving) “This tree doesn’t even bear fruit for eight years. That was kind of his way of saying, ‘This is my home’.”

(Zind) The little house where the apple tree stands is perched high on a Vermont hilltop.

There’s a view of distant, hazy mountains.

Beyond them is the world Tom Stone also called his home.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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