LAGRANGE, GA, USA U.S. Army SGT BALAD RUZ, IRAQ 02/10/2008
His wife was working on their taxes. His mother was at Wal-Mart looking for a hot plate to send to her son. His father was doing repairs on a house. Late Sunday afternoon, just before dark, phones rang out as, one by one, uncles, grandmothers, cousins, neighbors, pastors and friends were told that Corey Spates was dead. His family came together in the coming darkness, holding each other in their grief, desperately trying to make sense of a family tragedy that had happened a half a world away.
A life long resident of LaGrange Georgia, Spates enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating from Troup High School in 2004. It wasn’t a quick decision, said his mother, Joy Thomas. “He was going through some trying times and he was looking for purpose in his life,” she said. “He talked to recruiters several times. He thought through his decision. He reasoned it out.”
It wasn’t long after he enlisted that Spates was shipped out to Iraq. He served there from January to December in 2005. Within months of his arrival in Iraq, Spates wrote to his mother and asked for her help.
“Everywhere his platoon went, they saw children who had nothing. They had no soccer balls, no school supplies, nothing to occupy them,” Thomas said. “Originally he wanted me to collect soccer balls for the children, then after he thought about it, he decided he wanted school supplies for the Iraqi children.” Thomas sent the word out to members at Western Heights Baptist Church and with in weeks collected more than 100 pounds of crayons, paper, scissors, pencils and other supplies. “I divided it all up in big baggies and we sent him 168 bags of school supplies,” she said.
When he returned home on his first leave, Spates brought pictures and stories of grateful, excited children to share with his family and his church. During that same 30-day leave, Spates ordered a pizza and fell in love. While eating dinner at Pizza Villa, the soldier met a brown -haired waitress that captivated his heart. His first date with Celeste Burke was just two years ago this month. With in months they were engaged. A year later, on February 3, they were married.
The newlyweds began their life together in Temple, Texas, while Corey Spates was stationed at Fort Hood. His wife found a job as a veterinarian’s technician. The two found a small church where they worshiped on Sundays. They made friends with other Army couples. On his way home, he would stop and pick wildflowers for his bride.
An animal lover, Celeste Spates brought home every stray she found, and the two collected two dogs, two cats and two rabbits. At one time, she recruited her husband to help her provide physical therapy during the evenings for an injured cat. “He really didn’t like that cat,” she admitted.
They all talk of the change they saw in the boy they loved when he fell in love with Celeste.
“When Celeste came on board, it was even better. She was a wonderful fit into our family,” Steve Spates said. His mother saw him change his priorities, taking on more responsibility when he married the love of his life.
Corey Spates was 21 years old when he gave his life.