Thursday, June 25, 2009

I always forget how hard this stretch of time between Memorial Day and Thomas's birthday on the 6th of July can be. A number of things have happened, either to us or around us, and another Montgomery County soldier has lost his life.

Gregory Hamilton, one of the members of the Montgomery County Veterans' Commission, has a cable access television program that he asked us all to appear on this past week. Actually, we taped interviews with him on Tuesday evening. Richard was out of town which was sort of ironic as he was the contact that Mr. Hamilton used, but I went and two of the other families went. We each talked for maybe five to ten minutes, allowing for some editing for the final show.

Sitting with everyone and talking again, a very comfortable thing to do. You don't get to do that with just anyone, because even those friends and family who love you and loved Thomas don't have the same experience and don't have the same decisions to make. It's only recently that I realized that we could get a copy of the autopsy report and yesterday Terry Gross's Fresh Air program on NPR had an interview with the doctor who made the decision that everyone who dies in Iraq and Afghanistan will be autopsied, at least by CT scan. Should I ask for this report? I would certainly be the only one who would read it. I think.

More to think about.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's hard creeping up to that first anniversary. Things are happening right now that I think I'll write about instead--the memories will still be there I hope when I'm ready to revisit them.

We are still working on the library naming question. We are now in touch with four of the eleven families in Montgomery County (counting ourselves) and we are united in our desire to see this particular memorial done in this particular way. One of the families has been going to the monthly meetings of the Veterans' Commission formed by the County Executive: a workgroup was formed to discuss the memorial last month and they were invited to take part. This did not go smoothly, shall we say. And then the family got in touch with us again (we'd been in touch periodically) and asked us to go to last Monday's meeting. The public (that would be us) was to be given a total of five minutes to comment at the end of the meeting. Richard prepared a statement. I decided to wing it if I got a chance. There were five of us coming, two sets of parents, and one pregnant widow, which gave us all one minute.

In the event, our concerns dominated the meeting and we all talked throughout. I'm going to insert Richard's statement. We had a very sympathetic audience, including several Viet Nam era vets and some less sympathetic political types (just doing their jobs). I think they all listened. I just don't want to say more until we know a bit more.

Prepared Remarks of Richard Doerflinger
Father of U.S. Army SPC Thomas Doerflinger, KIA Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 11, 2004

Meeting of the Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs
June 8, 2009

Over two years ago, the county named an ad hoc panel to consider names for the new Rockville Library. The chairman seemed committed in advance to naming it after former county executive Doug Duncan, and this idea won support from a bare majority of the panel; but county guidelines forbid naming public buildings after elected officials within five years after their term. Coming in a strong second, supported by some panel members and by letters and petitions signed by almost twelve hundred county residents, with support from major community organizations, was to name it Rockville Memorial Library in honor of the brave members of our county – 11 men so far – who have died fighting for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. This widely supported proposal sank without a trace. Some say this option is off the table because the county executive would still rather wait out the next two years until it is technically legal to name it after his political ally instead.

Now we have alternative proposals: Allowing people who want to do so to walk through a “remembrance garden,” or putting names on a plaque (or as tonight’s agenda says, a plague) in a county office building. I’m sure these are well meant, but they miss the point. We the families don’t need a remembrance garden – for us, every garden will always be a remembrance garden. The point is not to find places that draw fewer visitors than the cemeteries themselves. The point of a war memorial is to find public, widely visited places where citizens are enjoying their freedoms, and remind them that these freedoms were purchased at a cost. Our son did not die for gardens, or for the right to go to a bureaucrat to find out you lost your fight over a zoning ordinance. He and these other brave men died in other countries fighting for the freedoms and ideals we at home take for granted – the right to assemble, to learn, to speak, to read, to write, to think. The library in our county seat seems a very appropriate embodiment of these freedoms.

But it almost seems the county government is allergic to the idea of honoring the fallen in general. Even the new Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring will not be called a memorial plaza – and the large sign in front of the plaza says special events will take place there on Veterans Day, the holiday dedicated chiefly to honoring living veterans. A veteran is generally understood to be someone who is back from the war. Our loved ones didn’t live long enough to be veterans. Their holiday is Memorial Day, a day not mentioned in materials about the plaza.

And so I return to our original question of over two years ago, which has never received a straight answer: Why not Rockville Memorial Library?