Remembering SFC Stephen J. White

90.3 WBHM Talladega -- Stephen White was a man truly blessed with family. He had a wife and seven children - and 20 brothers, 11 sisters, scores of cousins, nieces and nephews. At his funeral, it was standing room only in Kelly Springs Missionary Baptist Church.

Friends and family all say Stephen White was an easy-going man. Eula Morris was a cousin and White's first grade teacher.

"He was a smart little boy. He was a sweet, kind of shy, pleasant, just a lovable little boy who was loved by all the children."

Ricky Swain was a high school classmate at Talladega High. They served together in ROTC. Swain says even then, White was a leader.

"You know he was quiet, didn't talk that much, you know. But he was a good person."

While he may have lived his life in a quiet way, at his funeral the crowd - some 500 strong - celebrated his life. Privately, though, many questioned his death. White was 39 years old and had already served four tours of duty in Iraq, when he came home for a visit last November with a story that would foreshadow the future. Talladega City Councilman Eddie Tucker is part of White's extended family.

"The last time he was in Iraq a dud hit his hooch where he was staying and when they woke up in the morning, they looked up there and they saw that they had an ordinance up there that didn't explode - and he took that as a sign that it was time for him to get out of the military."

Tucker says White planned to retire last fall, but the government denied his retirement request, as part of its wartime policy known as "stop-loss".

"He knew that he was gonna die. He was almost like Martin Luther King, he gave his life because he didn't have to go - he could have been a conscientious objector and told the military he wasn't going. But he went anyway - he was a brave man."

White's wife, Vickie, is also in the Army - also stationed in Iraq. Family members say she will be leaving the military. During his funeral service, Stephen White was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, a meritorious service medal and an Army combat action badge. Councilman Tucker also announced that Talladega's 17th Street will be renamed Stephen White Memorial Drive. Not exactly how White planned to leave his legacy on Talladega. Tucker says Stephen White had planned to run for mayor after retiring - following in the steps of his father, a long-time county commissioner and leader in the civil rights movement in Talladega.

"He would have been a shoe-in."

-- Tanya Ott, January 25, 2006