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: