Rhonda Worthington, center, and her daughter, Kaylin Worthington, listen as speakers talk about Army Pfc. Robert Adrian Worthington at a Gold Star Mothers ceremony Saturday. Robert Adrian Worthington, who died in combat in May 2007, was Rhonda Worthington’s son and Kaylin Worthington’s brother. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
REX — Kaylin Worthington broke down into tears as she was handed the neatly folded American flag Saturday.
The bright white stars sitting atop a deep blue field — made all the brighter by the ray of sunshine that poured down through a break in the trees — were a reminder that her brother, Army Pfc. Robert Adrian Worthington, was still gone. It wasn’t just some long six-and-a-half year nightmare from which she might someday wake up.
Her beloved brother was gone, and when Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5080 Commander John Bogardus knelt in front of her during a Gold Star Mothers ceremony and handed her the flag, the emotions came running back.
The feeling was as fresh as if her “Bubba” had just died.
“My heart broke all over again,” Worthington said. “It’s honorable, what they do, but it’s still heartbreaking to know that I won’t be able to go home and have dinner with him.”
The VFW singled out Pfc. Worthington to be honored during the ceremony which was held a day in advance of Gold Star Mothers Day at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex.
The young man who grew up helping his grandfather, Earl Worthington, graft Fraser and Japanese fir trees together for the family Christmas tree farm died in May 2007 on a road in Taji, Iraq, just 20 miles north of Baghdad. He was felled by an improvised explosive device, a tool insurgents in Iraq used to kill several U.S. soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He was 19 when he died.
“He paid the price for the freedom we enjoy at home and the freedom we have purchased for others abroad,” Ladies Auxiliary state President Kim Lewis said.
County Commissioner Sonna Singleton, who helped organize a permanent memorial for Worthington at the center in 2008, said the community thanked the Worthington family for what Robert Adrian Worthington did in the military. She also called on attendees to share information about his life with children who may not have been born until after he died.
“He gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Singleton said.
In addition to the flag presentation, Kaylin and Robert Adrian Worthington’s father, Robert Worthington, was also presented with a memorial certificate from the national VFW headquarters.
But on a bright sunny Saturday in Rex, there were no combatants. There were no IEDs to avoid either. It was just the Worthington family, the Forest Park High School color and honors guards, elected officials, military veterans and scout troops.
There was a calming peace in the air. The silence broken only by speakers talking about Robert Adrian Worthington’s sacrifice, children playing on a playground and jet airplanes flying overhead.
“It’s sad, but knowing that so many people loved him and remember him fills some of the sadness,” Kaylin Worthington said. “But it’s still heartbreaking.”
Rhonda Worthington, mother of Kaylin and her brother, said the pair were close as children, which made the recognition of Kaylin — although technically not a Gold Star Mother — more poignant. They were best friends and he was extremely protective of his sister, his mother said.
“He worshipped her,” said Rhonda Worthington. “I always said if one of them had to go first, it’d have to be him because I don’t think he would have been able to go on without her.”
Gold Star Mothers are women whose sons or daughters have died in military combat. Cindy Arndt, president of VFW Post 5080’s Ladies Auxiliary, said Kaylin was chosen to receive the flag, instead of her mother, at the ceremony to help her with the healing process, though.
“She’s had a troubling time dealing with this loss, and her mother was presented with the flag at his original memorial service, and I thought it would be nice for her to have a flag as well,” Arndt said.
But the flag carries a lot of emotion for the Worthington family. It’s a patriotic symbol, but also a constant reminder of loss for his relatives, Rhonda Worthington said.
Still, Kaylin Worthington said it helps to know her brother hasn’t been forgotten. That was one way in which the ceremony helped her at least a little bit with the healing process.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that people still remember him and still care, because there are so many of them who died that aren’t remembered,” she said. “It’s a satisfying feeling, knowing that he won’t be forgotten.”