Monday, January 19, 2009

Sitting on my dresser are two church bulletins from this past November. What makes them unique (because we have a lot of church bulletins kicking around this house) is that they came from the Roman Catholic Community of Saint Michael the Archangel in the International Zone of Baghdad, Iraq. A parishioner in our church (St. John the Baptist in Silver Spring, Maryland) had been there on business the week of Thomas's anniversary, and had asked for Thomas to be mentioned in the prayers of the faithful. Instead, the priest said that they would just dedicate the whole Mass to Thomas. So, my boy was prayed for, on his anniversary, in the country where he died. I am so grateful to Jim for thinking to ask.

The next phase of our visit to Fort Lewis was the Redeployment ceremony. This involved the entire brigade and was a massive exercise. I should have taken notes. We did take pictures (which I'm having trouble accessing at the moment). Approximately five thousand men and women stood in formation while speeches were given, accomplishments recounted, people were introduced. Dave and his family stayed with us in the bleachers (and again we thanked our lucky stars that it was one of the beautiful October days with sunshine and no rain). Eventually it came to an end and we made our way down to the grassy field where soldiers and families were milling around. I kept thinking that Thomas should have been there and wondering if his spirit was with us.

Dave introduced us to a number of Thomas's friends and we asked them to lunch at the local Pizza Hut. As a result, we found ourselves sitting with about eight guys in uniform, having them reminisce about Thomas and his really, really bad driving skills but also about his dry sense of humor and his tender heart. He had not fit in immediately when sent to Fort Lewis--he was about two weeks behind his class of trainees because he had decided (or it had been decided for him) that he was not going to try for Special Forces after all. If he had continued on that path, he would have stayed at Fort Benning for airborne school, and he had thought initially he'd still be able to do that. The Army had different ideas, and wouldn't let him do it. Instead they sent him to Fort Lewis, 30 miles from where I graduated from high school (our back roads used to have "Tank Crossing" signs) and trained him to be a Stryker vehicle driver. This made so much sense: he got his driver's license one month before he left for basic. Anyway, his friends told us how they had initially been rather wary of him, calling him "Doerflinger" but then gradually warming up as they found out who was behind that pale, pale facade. He went from Doerflinger, to Tommy to TG3 (for Tommy Gun cubed, the ultimate cool). They clearly loved him and his quirky ways.

A couple of the guys told us they would like to come back to Washington for Thomas's anniversary and we told them all that we would be happy to have any of them in our home. E-mail addresses were exchanged. It was healing and happy and for some reason, despite all the memories we shared that day, I don't remember that there were any tears at that lunch table. We knew it was realistically our only chance to meet Thomas's friends--the unit was going to be reflagged and these young men were all going to be scattering--we were just glad to be able to be there.

I'm going to leave a note to myself to talk about Michael Yon's blog and the characters from that that we met at Fort Lewis that day next time. Meanwhile, I leave with the Prayer to Saint Michael, patron saint of soldiers, which is printed on the cover of the bulletins Jim brought back for us:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our defense
against he wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke
him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host by
the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and the other evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Technical difficulties, not to mention the holidays, sort of interfered with this blog! I hope that my faithful readers (a small but loyal band) have not given up checking to see if I've added anything. I hope to add pictures later, in a different post when we get my computer problems straightened out.

October in Washington state can be an iffy sort of month in terms of weather and both of the ceremonies we were scheduled to attend were outdoors. By some miracle, the sun was shining and it was a perfect fall day, not cold, just right for being outdoors. The first ceremony was relatively early in the morning--I want to say 9:00 a.m. but this is one thing I forgot to write down in my calendar! We were escorted by Thomas's friend David and his wife Amber, and David's parents Richard and Kaye, who had come to the funeral. My sister and her husband Mike came, my cousin Peg and her husband Bob (a Viet Nam era veteran) came, and Anne of course was there, poised to remove Matthew if he wished. Richard, Anna, Maria and Matthew and I were there of course as well. I think we had the largest contingent, but that was mostly because my family and friends were local to Fort Lewis.

This first gathering was relatively small, involving the families of the fallen, as they dedicated a memorial to those who had been lost. There were 44 names. Some families did not come, at least one because they were still so deep in their grief. The Brigade had not made provisions for the families to meet each other thinking this might be too difficult, but I did mention later to one of the officers in charge that I thought it might be a good idea if they ever had to do this again to set up a gathering for the families. We clearly do better when we mourn together than we when we are all alone (sometimes being alone is a good thing). They had left boxes of tissues under our chairs, and there were certainly tears. There were speeches, short, and the names were read with each family receiving a shadow box with a small, folded flag on one half and the other side sporting a metal lightning bolt Stryker symbol, and an Operation Iraqi Freedom "coin"--it's behind glass and won't photograph well but I will try later. A small plaque at the bottom says:

SPC Thomas K. Doerflinger
1-24 IN
Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.