Sunday, April 01, 2007

A little break here. Locally, there is a move afoot to name a new library the "Rockville Memorial Library" and dedicate it to the memory of the Montgomery County, Maryland servicemembers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq (we believe the count is at eight). There are other worthy contenders for the name but my husband has written a letter to the county official in charge of the naming process, and sent it on to local papers and politicians explaining why we feel that the Memorial name would be most appropriate. Both of our names are on this letter, but this is Richard's writing: it explains our position beautifully. If you would like to know more, you can Google "Montgomery County Library Petition" and read the story in the March 15th Washington Post. Here is Richard's letter:

Al Roshdieh
Acting Deputy Director
Dept. of Public Works and Transportation
101 Monroe Street, 10th Floor
Rockville, MD 20850
Fax: 240-777-7178
Dear Mr. Roshdieh:

We understand Montgomery County is considering a name for the projected public library in Rockville, and your advisory panel is accepting comments from the public. One proposal is to name it the Rockville Memorial Library, and dedicate it to the memory of the brave men and women of our county who have fallen while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are writing in support of that proposal, as parents of one of those brave young men. Our 20-year-old son Thomas Doerflinger was killed in battle in Mosul, Iraq, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2004, just one month after being deployed.

A question inevitably raised by the proposal is: What do books have to do with soldiers? One answer already given is that so many of these men and women joined the armed services, and gave their lives, to defend our way of life – our freedom to think, to read, to speak our minds – against the threat of terrorism. This was certainly true of Thomas, who joined with the 9/11 terrorist attack firmly in mind. He personally had no great enthusiasm for the war in Iraq itself – he wrote back to friends that he had doubts about the justification for the invasion, and for a time he hoped he would be deployed to Korea or Afghanistan instead. But he had no doubts
about the need to stand for treasured values threatened by terror. In his
personal diary that came back to us after his death, the first entry – written a
year before he was deployed – reads: “Steps must be taken to ensure the
preservation of that which, being most precious, is most easily lost.”

That diary brings us to the second reason why a library would be an especially fitting tribute in Thomas’s case (and, we are sure, in the case of others as well). You see, Thomas wanted to be a writer. He had been writing stories and poems for years, and his literary interests had received further encouragement from his favorite English teacher in the International Baccalaureate Program at Springbrook High School, Tom Tobin. Mr. Tobin spoke to us after Thomas’s death about the unusually mature and frustrating insights he could bring to his assignments commenting on literary works – frustrating, because once the insight was communicated he would decide he had nothing more to say and stop writing. There was no “filler,” Mr. Tobin said, in Thomas’s essays and papers. And he was so self-critical, such a perfectionist in his standards, that he often did not turn in or finish assignments if he felt he had nothing important to say.

This was, very consciously, another reason Thomas joined the Army. He was a
brilliant young man, but not a reliable student. He felt the Army would help him acquire the confidence and self-discipline he needed to overcome his mental blocks and use his talents more productively. By all accounts he did acquire that discipline. His superiors spoke later of his becoming a model soldier, and the medals awarded him posthumously included the Good Conduct medal in addition to the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Because Thomas never attracted attention to himself or spoke of his own accomplishments, we heard only later from others about some of the ways he put his intellectual gifts to work while in the Army. When the soldiers on his Army base in Washington state were invited to consider tutoring students at the elementary school on the base, Thomas volunteered to teach writing – and he read the students some of his own humorous poetry to inspire them. He volunteered to take the crash course in Arabic offered only to selected soldiers going to Iraq. He was assigned to be the driver of one of the Stryker armored vehicles, partly because he could easily master the technical manuals and maintenance reports involved. And while in Iraq, his friends told us later, he began mentally to write a play, a fictionalized version of their experience at war. He wrote back to friends in the States that if someone were going to write about the war – even to criticize it – he should be willing first to experience what it is like.

Back home, we sometimes would see pictures of American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan helping to build schools or libraries for the local children. And we knew that this is the kind of work Thomas would much rather be doing there.

On his last visit home before deployment, Thomas said goodbye to his best friend here by giving her a book: the memoirs of the great Latin American writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale. As she later said at Thomas’s funeral, he told her this was only the first of three volumes – so he would have to return safely to give her the other two.

That was not to be. A month after being deployed, his own Stryker vehicle being repaired due to damage in a previous battle, Thomas volunteered to be part of another Stryker unit as it went into Mosul. Their mission was to repel insurgents who were bombing police stations and plunging the city into chaos. He was to stay
near the vehicle and provide cover fire to protect his comrades. Apparently he did this job well. He was the only American soldier to be killed in Mosul that day, shot by a rooftop sniper no one had seen.

As we and all who knew him grieve the loss of Thomas, we also know he was doing something he felt was fundamentally important, for his own character and for his country. We don’t know if he would have returned to write the great American novel, or play, or poem about the war in Iraq. We do feel, though, that if this library is dedicated to Thomas and the other brave men and women who have died in this struggle, it will be as though Thomas again had the opportunity to help teach children how to read and write. He will get to build his library after all. And if this does happen, we would like to donate to the new library a copy of Living to Tell the Tale – all three volumes, of course.


Richard and Lee Ann Doerflinger


At April 1, 2007 at 9:42:00 PM PDT , Anonymous Laurie, Chase's mom said...

What a beautiful tribute to Thomas. A memorial library would be fitting and I will pray they have eyes to see that, and an open heart to act on it.
God bless.

At April 3, 2007 at 1:07:00 AM PDT , Blogger Barbara said...

Very moving letter. I would comment more but the Boy is rampaging

At April 17, 2007 at 2:13:00 PM PDT , Blogger 4HisChurch said...

Oh, Lee Ann! I hope and pray that the library is named after Thomas.


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