While traveling down this road of life some of us are fortunate enough to meet someone, every how slightly, that effects that road in ways that they would never know. Steve Wakefield, known to many on the Internet as "AoT", was one such person. Even though he and I only met once face to face, because of the Internet, I considered him one of the few true friends I had. On November 1, 2005 I learned that my friend had passed away on October 29 after losing his battle with cancer. This is a small attempt to try to explain just who this great man was, what he meant to Civil War community, his neighbors, and what his passing means to me.
Stephen Dyer Wakefield
Steve came into the WebAmerica chatroom in the mid 90s when just a few of us were starting to talk about the Civil War over the Internet. He stayed with the group when the WebAmerica room shut down. As we bounced around the Internet trying to find a home, there was Steve. Always with us, always giving us encouragement, and always sharing his immense knowledge of the Western Theater in which his beloved Army of Tennessee played such a huge role. We talked many times, about many subjects over the years.
While the WebAmerica chatroom was still up there came a young man to visit with us who called himself Henry. He came to us from St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in the summer of 1997. What we found out was that Henry had cancer and was in the Ronald McDonald house there. What we did not know was that Steve had taken this young man under his wing because of his interest in the Civil War and bought the computer for the Ronald McDonald House so that Henry could join us in the chatroom. Then when Henry was sent home a few months later, it was Steve that sent him a dog, which Henry named "Sam" after Sam Grant (we know him as General Ulysses S. Grant). Unfortunately, a few months later it was Steve that stood by the grave site of young Henry, holding his mom's hand, as Henry was lowered in.
In 1999 I started what is known as "The Civil War Western Theater Discussion Group", or the CWWT. Over the years, this has become one of the premier Civil War discussion groups on the Internet with over 500 members and still growing. If it were not for Steve this discussion group might not exist. While we were still in the old WebAmerica Civil War chatroom, one evening the discussion turned toward the war in the west and how it seemed to be neglected in most books and discussions. As the discussions continued I made a comment about setting up a discussion group dedicated to the western theater. I let it drop at that. It was not too long before I got an email from Steve asking what happened to setting up a discussion group about the western theater. I wrote back and told him that it was merely a suggestion and I had not thought about really setting one up. He wrote back and reckoned as to how he thought I should. I wrote and told him that while I could do it technically, and I had the website as a platform to advertise it, I did not know enough about the war in the west to ask an intelligent question. He reckoned as to how that was not important, it was a learning tool, and if I would set it up he would be one of the first members and help me along as best he could. As I thought about a little more and contacted a couple of friends to see if they would help moderate it, I decided to do it. Thus the CWWT was born.
Now this is not to say that Steve and I always saw eye to eye about everything. As some the old timers in the CWWT might remember, in the early days of this discussion group Steve got his shorts all in a bunch and decided to resign. I wrote him and told him that I thought he was just as wrong as "snow in July" but it was his choice. He resigned and sent me a nice email (which I still have) explaining his decision. However, it was not too many months before he came back to join us again. Then some time back, when I was really having a hard time with the group, I wrote Steve and told him that I was getting all kinds of email about how the group was being moderated. A few praising me, but most were chastising me for being too strict about enforcing the rules. I explained all of this to Steve and told him that while I appreciated all of the input to the group he had made, I was thinking about just shutting it down. The hassle was getting to be too much. Between the email from the CWWT and the email from my website I was just getting overwhelmed, and what did he think. He wrote back and said, "First Sergeant (that was his name for me), let me throw your own words back at you, "I think you are just as wrong as snow in July but it is your choice." Needless to say the group is still there and doing well. Sometimes you just need a friend to put the solutions to your problems in simple terms.
Then when Hurricane Katrina hit Steve took several families into his home to provide shelter for them. I think there were five families altogether. I know he had his guest house full, and all the bedrooms in his home were full. All this was done even though he was suffering greatly from the effects of chemo for his cancer. He never spoke of his problems, his pain, his fears, he only spoke of theirs.
It is such a great thing to live in the age we do. No longer does a friend have to live next door, or even be someone you have to talk to once a week. It merely has to be someone whom you trust and know that he is just a key stroke away. Steve was such a person for me and he will be sorely missed. May the good Lord bless him and give him peace.
This is the discussion in the Civil War Home Chatroom the day we were notified of AoT's death. Very, very moving and shows how much this man was loved. AoT's Essay This is something that AoT wrote for my website that I think you will really enjoy. AoT's Thoughts on the Confederate Flag This is something that AoT wrote concerning the display of "the" Confederate Flag. AoT's Discussion A discussion in the WebAmerica chatroom about the "Chattanooga Campaign" led by AoT.
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