Burlington Free Press
March 31, 2006
The Connecticut River Valley was home to Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone.
He grew up in Pomfret and bought a home with longtime partner Rose Loving in Tunbridge. Cousins were scattered about in surrounding towns, where he could help with the haying or the chores and spend time with nieces and nephews.
No matter where Tom Stone went, he took his home with him. To Australia, Ireland, Laos and the countries that spanned the gaps in between. And to Afghanistan, to which Stone, 52, was deployed for three tours with the Vermont Army National Guard, and where he was killed Wednesday during a Taliban attack on the base where he was helping to train Afghan soldiers.
Friends and family said they were trying to come to terms Thursday with the loss of the adventurer and explorer with a bright smile, fondness for children and infallible focus on assisting anyone he could.
“My cousin was the kind of person you were lucky to meet once in your entire life,” Norwich resident Sally Britton said Thursday, her quiet voice thick with grief. “The people he met did not forget him.” A global stroll
An Army man, Stone enlisted shortly after his 1971 graduation from Woodstock Union High School. His decision to join was at least partly inspired by the disappearance of his older brother and free-lance photographer, Dana Stone, in April 1970. Dana Stone disappeared in Cambodia, while on assignment. Tom Stone was a junior in high school, and friends said he thought of finding his brother when he enlisted.
He served for 18 years before deciding that he needed to take a break and see the world on his own schedule. After selling his house and car and condensing his life into a 40-pound backpack, he set out on April Fool’s Day, 1992, to explore — to walk the world. A group of kindergartners at the Pomfret School saw him off after walking the first quarter mile, the launch of a partnership with the school he maintained throughout his journey.
Principal Lynn McMorris said Thursday that Stone had contacted her to offer himself as a Pomfret pen pal. He was going to spend about six years exploring, she said, and wanted to know if she thought students would be interested in receiving dispatches from his journey.
Each letter was a schoolwide affair, she said. She would read it aloud during one of the school’s weekly assemblies; when students sent him questions, he made sure to single out each student in his response.
“I was trying to fill my canteens,” he wrote in 1997, describing an instance in which he stepped on what he thought was a rock. When he discovered it was a crocodile, “for a few minutes, I was indisputably the fastest thing on the river bank.”
His writing voice was bright, honest and engaging, McMorris said.
“He was funny, and it was the kind of funny things that kids really like,” she said. “The humor he showed in his writing for the children was just perfect.”
The correspondence continued throughout the eight-year trip — six years hadn’t given him enough time — and members of that kindergarten class, by then 14 years old, walked the final quarter mile back to school May 31, 2000.
He told the Free Press a day earlier that he liked to walk, he liked stories and that was why he decided to take a global stroll.
“Life is easy on the road,” he said. “I’m going to be sad to stop.”
Britton said she served as her cousin’s “point person” during the eight-year span, keeping track of the mail he received from travel-met acquaintances. She said Stone told her the lifestyle complimented his ability to be both an introvert and extrovert. There would be days when there was no one else around to talk to, so he had to be able to keep himself amused.
“But the second you saw someone, you said hello,” he told her. Another journey
Stone contemplated another worldwide journey — he had missed India, Africa and South America — before joining the Army National Guard full-time later in 2000. A return to military life preceded a return abroad, this time to Afghanistan. An infantryman and a medic, he offered sage wisdom and a dry sense of humor to those who served with him.
“He was always the voice of maturity,” said Lt. Col. Jack Mosher, who served as Stone’s former battalion commander and team leader in 2004, his second tour in Afghanistan. “Everywhere we went, we called him our adult supervision. He was a voice of reason, voice of maturity. He was never wrong! About anything! Even if you didn’t want to agree with him.”
Stone created a clinic in northern Afghanistan that, within six weeks, had treated more than 2,500 women and children, said Mosher, now director of operations for the Maine Army National Guard in Augusta. Children would approach him with extensive injuries and be calmed by his presence.
He didn’t view them as maimed or injured, Mosher said. Children only saw the compassion in his eyes.
The Afghan people loved Stone, and Stone loved Afghanistan, Mosher said.
“He loved the Afghan people, the culture. It suited him, being there,” Mosher said. “There was something about it he loved, beyond the mission, beyond everything else.
“The average person would look at this mud-walled village, with no sewer, health care or schools. He would see the future of Afghanistan,” Mosher said. “He had a vision of humanity, the way things should be.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.