ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Brenda Thompson will never forget the day her daughter said she wanted to join the military. And she'll always remember the reason she gave.
"She wanted to help President Obama," Thompson said. "I tried to get my head around it, but she said 'I want to do something for the President of the United States,'" Thompson said.
Army Spc. Brittany Gordon died in Afghanistan October 13 at the hands of a suicide bomber. Gordon became the first woman killed from the greater Tampa Bay area in either the Iraqi or Afghan wars.
Her mother said it was difficult to let her child go, especially into a war zone. "Being my only child, I put everything into her, raising her as a single parent," Thompson said. But she realized that as an adult, her daughter was doing what she thought was right in her heart.
"That wasn't the choice I wanted for her," Thompson said. "But you know, I raised her to accept challenges and make her decisions."
In dealing with the loss, Thompson has shown remarkable calm even as her friends break down with emotion all around her. "I'm still just trying to deal with it," she said. "It's still a raw feeling to me."
A memorial service at the chapel on the campus of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg drew many friends and family, and emotional testimony about the young woman's life.
Barbara Butler, Gordon's best friend and high school basketball teammate, gave a tearful remembrance of their days as student athletes. Butler also recalled the last time she spoke to Gordon before she died.
"It's very hard because somebody you just said happy birthday to in Afghanistan a couple of days ago, somebody just two days before she passed said 'I see the light,'" Butler said, referring to the light at the end of the tunnel for her tour of duty. Gordon was scheduled to return to the U.S. in December.
"I was like, 'you better see that light,'" Butler said. "Little did we know it was the other light. But God doesn't make mistakes," she said.
"It was devastating," said Janice Teemer, part of Gordon's extended family. She said was angry after hearing about the deadly attack, but now hopes that Gordon's death will lead to awareness about the sacrifices being made overseas.
"We're in a war. And it's going on so long. And so many of our young people are getting killed," Teemer said. "I was hoping that people would really appreciate the military for what they do."
Gordon's former varsity and junior varsity basketball coaches, Bonnie Thompson and Stephanie Swenson, announced that St. Petersburg High School plans to retire her number 33 jersey in honor of the fallen veteran. They hope it serves as a reminder to young people about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America.
"They'll know that she served her country and she represented the student athlete at St. Petersburg High School," Thompson said.