When Katie Luff asked her son, Aiden Luff, what kind of birthday party her son wanted, he said a party with a military theme. All veterans. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. If you served, Aiden wanted you to be invited.
“Veterans are much cooler,” Aiden, 7, said.
On Nov. 21, 2010, when Aiden was only 5 months old, his father, Sgt. David James Luff Jr., 29, died in Tikrit, Iraq, after insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire, the Department of Defense said.
David Luff joined the Army in July 2004 as a tanker and attended training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon completion of training, he was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, where he served as a gunner.
In 2006, he was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for 15 months. In April 2009, he was reassigned to Able Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” where he served as a driver. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in January of 2010. Seven months later, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn as a gunner.
“He’s very proud of veterans and his father,” Luff, 32, said.
Aiden was 6 weeks old when his father was deployed to Iraq. That was the last time they saw each other.
When Luff’s family and friends started planning the party last week, Luff had no idea how many veterans would accept and invitation to a birthday party for a 7-year-old. She figured about 30 people might show up.
Instead it was 300.
Aiden rode on the back of the motorcycle of Perry Davis, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Associates. As they approached the airport, Davis was amazed by the turnout of well-wishers, many of them saluting the young boy.
“You can’t describe it,” Davis said.
Then he came up with the perfect word: “Awesome.”
Those in attendance showered Aiden with birthday presents, including several challenge coins, a leather motorcycle vest stitched with his nickname, “Boo Boo,” and patches, a military shadow box and dog tags, and he was invited to meet several members of Team Fastrax, a based skydiving team based out of Middletown, Ohio, that performed.
“He was treated very special,” his mother said. “It was emotional. It was amazing. All these men, all these men who didn’t know my son, showed such kindness and respect like he was family. The number of people, well, it was overwhelming.”
Her son, she said, typically very shy, interacted with those at his party.
“He had the biggest smile all day,” she said. “He thinks he’s famous now.”
She said veterans are special because they appreciate the sacrifices of those in the military and their families.
“They understand and care and let you know not to forget the people who didn’t come home,” she said.
The Luffs were married on Dec. 31, 2008. Less than two years later, he was killed serving his country during his second tour of duty.
When Luff heard the knock at her front door seven years ago and saw a chaplain standing there, she knew the numbing news: The love of her life, her high school sweetheart, was gone.
“Every life plan was just taken away,” she said. “We had so many things planned. It was so soon. My world collapsed right there.”
Now, she said, her job as a mother is to protect her “best little buddy,” that energetic 7-year-old boy.
“He gave me a purpose to keep my head up and keep marching,” she said.
Every so often, Aiden flashes a facial expression that reminds his mother of his father. Those are good days in the Luff house.
“I still have that piece of Dave,” Luff said.