Capt. Benjamin F. Tiffner spoke to his parents the day before he died.
It was November, Tiffner's mother Judy recalled. She planned to go shopping at Fred Meyer to buy Ben's first care package. On her way out the door, the phone rang. Judy answered, but no one answered back. Generally, when she gets prank calls, she says hello twice then hangs up. This time, without much thought, she called into the silence a third time. It was Ben, half a world away in Iraq.
Ben's father, Pastor Tim Tiffner, had jury duty. Judy got through, however, and Tim spoke with his son one last time.
"Tim said to Ben, 'I know you can't tell us a lot, but give us a request and we'll pray for you,'" Judy said. "He asked us to pray for his team members."
In 2007, Ben was killed during a mission in Baghdad. The Soldotna Baptist Church, where Tim preaches, hosted a ceremony in remembrance of the soldier on Sunday. Honor and Remember of Alaska presented a personalized flag to the Tiffner family.
Following the church's Sunday service, David Caswell of Honor and Remember spoke about the family's loss and the mission of the organization.
"In over 200 years of our nation's history, we've never embraced a national symbol that specifically recognizes the ultimate sacrifice of our military men and women, to bring tribute to every service member who has ever lost their life in the line of duty," Caswell said.
The flag contains a handful of symbols. A red field that covers two-thirds of the flag represents the blood spilled by the men and women of the U.S. military. A white field on the bottom third of the flag represents the "purity of sacrifice." A blue star represents active service in a military conflict. The interior gold star signifies an active service member who will not return home. Also, overlaid on the star is a folded flag with a flame, which is "an eternal reminder of the spirit that has departed this life."
The flag is also designed so it can be personalized in tribute to an individual. Tiffner's flag includes his rank and the date of his death toward the bottom.
The day after their phone conversation, two military officials visited the Tiffner home and delivered the news.
Tim heard first. After, he went into the kitchen and asked Judy if she remembered the previous week's sermon. It was Romans 8:28, which reads, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
This passage is very important, Judy said, as her son believed in his calling.
During their last conversation, Ben told his mother, "I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. My whole life I have wanted to be in the military, and I'm doing exactly what God wants me to do."
Tiffner was born in Ohio. He spent much of his childhood in the Philippines where his parents served as missionaries. He graduated from West Point in 2000 and served his first tour of duty in Iraq from November 2003 to March 2004. He earned his Green Beret in 2006 before returning for a second tour.
He was killed by an improvised explosive deceive, or IED, 22 days into his second tour He was the only member of his team killed while returning from a scouting mission.
Tiffner frequently visited Soldotna, where his parents and sister, Sarah, have lived since 1999.
"He would come often to visit often. He was just here this summer," Tim Tiffner said during a 2007 interview with the Clarion.
Caswell invited the Tiffners to the front of the church for the presentation of the flag. The family received a flag when Ben was buried at Arlington National Cemetery for storage in a shadow box and remains folded to represent life lost.
"This flag was meant to be unfolded and proudly displayed," Caswell said as he handed the Tiffners the personalized flag.
Caswell has given nine flags to families around Alaska in two years. A total of 12 states have adopted the Honor and Remember flag as their official symbol of recognition. And two years ago, Alaska signed a resolution of support for adoption of the flag, but it's still not officially adopted, Caswell said.
So far, the Kenai and Skagway Boroughs, and the cities of Kenai, Soldotna and Skagway have adopted the flag, he said.
He added the organization makes an effort to reach out to the community for donations for the flags, which are handmade and cost $300. He is unwilling to ask families who've received their own flags for help.
"They've already paid enough," he said.
An anonymous donor paid for Ben's flag.
Tim Tiffner said he appreciates the motivation behind the organization, and the flag is a fitting tribute and means a great deal to his family.
"Sometimes it's easy to forget; out of site out of mind, especially as things wind down overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet I was just reviewing the casualties on the (Honor and Remember) website, reading the names," he said. "I appreciate them helping people to remember, not glorifying them, they were human beings just like the rest of us, but that sacrifice is good for the culture, for people to honor those lost."
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.