WHITE OAK – More laughter than tears filled St. John the Baptist Church on Friday as family and friends celebrated the life of Army Specialist Thomas K. Doerflinger, 20, who was killed Nov. 11 in fighting in Iraq.
The 650-seat Catholic church was filled to near capacity as mourners shared stories about the Springbrook High School graduate who they remembered as quiet and reserved, but with a sparkling intelligence and a sarcastic sense of humor.
“We shouldn’t think of this as a terrible loss, but a beautiful gift,” said Christina DiPasquale, a friend who chose to focus on Doerflinger’s life.
Doerflinger served with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division — a Stryker Brigade Combat Team — based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The Silver Spring resident had served in Iraq for less than a month before he was killed in Mosul.
Doerflinger was the first of four Maryland soldiers to die in as many days in Iraq. The deaths of Marine Cpl. Dale A. Burger Jr. of Port Deposit, Marine Cpl. Nicholas L. Ziolkowski of Towson and Marine Lance Cpl. David M. Branning of Cockeysville brought the Maryland death toll in Iraq to 18 since the war began.
Before the funeral, Maj. Gen. James M. Collins Jr. presented Doerflinger’s family with the medals awarded to their son and brother: a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Good Conduct medal and an Infantry badge.
His parents, Richard and Lee Ann Doerflinger, said in a prepared statement that their son “was a smart, dedicated, wonderful young man who volunteered for the Army to serve his country and protect innocent people. He understood the risks of his chosen path, and gave his life doing what he had committed himself to doing–standing against those who have no respect for human life. Even as we grieve for our loss we honor the ideals he stood for and ask other to do the same.”
“Tommy” was the second of four Doerflinger children, with Anna, 23, Maria, 17, and Matthew, 12. The congregation roared in laughter when Anna talked of praying, as a child, to become a big sister — and later learning the frustration of having a little brother.
“Every time he did something to annoy me, I was reminded that I prayed for Thomas,” she said.
She always thought of him as her “baby brother,” a quiet, private guy who liked to play practical jokes on the family. It was not until he was deployed to Iraq that she saw him as the man of integrity, dedication, and courage that he had become.
She once asked her brother why he wanted to join the Army when the country was at war. He did it to “be useful,” she recalled, saying he “wouldn’t want to join in a time of peace and sit around wasting taxpayers’ money.”
Springbrook teacher Tom Tobin said he was “blown away” when the boy of few words spoke for the first time in the school’s Catholic students club with a summary of the writings of St. Augustine. The two became good friends, and Doerflinger baby-sat for Tobin’s kids and called his former teacher while he was stationed in Washington.
Doerflinger seemed quiet, Tobin said, but revealed a mischievous side when he wanted to, with his great Sean Connery impression or a funny joke. For his considerable intelligence, Doerflinger’s work habits “were not a pretty sight,” Tobin said. But when he finally turned in his assignments, his talent showed through, Tobin said.
Tobin remembered the last time he saw Doerflinger, at a Tobin family dinner last summer.
“I said, ‘Please make sure you get back here safe and make sure you take some classes,'” Tobin said.
Doerflinger was buried Friday at the Gate of Heaven cemetery in Silver Spring.
The Rev. Peter Alliata, a pastor at St. James Church in Mount Rainier, which the Doerflinger family used to attend, recalled Thomas as a quiet but intelligent boy. His death brought home the realities of the war in Iraq.
“You keep seeing those names and you hope you never know anybody,” he said, “This reminds us, every one of those people have people that care about them.”
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