Thanks to help from Linda L. this is now posted. I delivered this on Veterans' Day at the Dedication of Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.
92 years ago today, World War I -- known as the Great War, the war to end all wars -- came to an end. November 11th became such a significant date that, under various titles, it has been observed ever since as a day to honor our veterans and to remember those who have died serving our country. In the United Kingdom and Canada, November 11th is known as Remembrance Day, and people in those countries wear poppies in tribute to the fallen.
Six years ago, this date took on another meaning for my family. My son, Army Specialist Thomas Doerflinger, was killed during combat operations on November 11th, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq. I watched the notification team approach my house with an extra layer of disbelief: how could Thomas have died on this day of all days? And yet, as I later told anyone who would listen, I think Thomas might have picked Veterans Day if he'd been given the choice. He was proud of his grandfathers, both of whom had served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. For a while, he carried my father's dogtags everywhere. Neither side of our family could be said to have a military tradition, but what our families did have was a willingness to serve when called upon. And so, when Thomas saw a need, he enlisted in the Army. On the day he died, he had volunteered to go on a dangerous mission because they needed one more soldier.
In the six years since Thomas's death, many more Montgomery County residents have lost their lives while serving their country. As a county, we have decided to honor their memory by naming the Rockville library, Rockville Memorial Library. In May and November, for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we put up displays at the library commemorating their service. These residents never got to be veterans. They did not come home to raise their families, or tell us funny stories to avoid telling us the horrible stories, or be celebrated in parades. And yet, it is entirely fitting that we celebrate them today along with the living. The veterans we thank for their service were the friends and comrades of our fallen. The sons and brothers, husbands and fathers that we have lost supported these men and women, protected them, and died for them. It is a moment for all of us to consider not only what we lost when they died, but how much we gained by their decision to serve.
Since World War I, blue star banners have hung in the homes of servicemembers who are in harm's way. If the servicemember dies or is killed, the star on that banner turns to gold. It is difficult to be a Gold Star family. It can be exquisitely painful when someone thanks us for the service our loved one gave. Every new death renews our own sorrow. But the gift our loved ones gave us is the legacy of service, of caring for our friends, of understanding that sometimes we must do the difficult thing and reach beyond ourselves. All who have placed their lives at risk to protect the helpless and the innocent have given us that gift, and for that we thank all our veterans.