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Breakfast at the White House

President thanks Dr. Austin for ‘extraordinary’ service

Carrollton, Ga.—Invited to the White House for breakfast and Memorial Day observance, Dr. Gordon T. Austin said he was “almost speechless ... almost” when President Obama “thanked me for my ‘extraordinary’ service to the nation.

Image: White House: Dr. Austin, Admiral Mike Mullen and his wife Deborah at the White House.
White House: Dr. Austin (left) is welcomed by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Deborah to the Memorial Day breakfast at the White House.

“I have been asked by friends about the nature of my talk with the president. My answer to all is that this was all about Memorial Day and sacrificial service. On these issues there is no disagreement. It was a conversation between an American president and someone who, that day and every day, is thankful just to be an American.”

Dr. Austin, who was an oral surgeon in civilian practice, retired from military service April 1 after 38 “adventurous” years with the U.S. Navy that included 11 years on active duty before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a recall to active duty afterwards when “I decided I needed to do something more to repay what dentistry, the Navy and this nation had provided for me and my family.” He began his Navy career with a health professions scholarship during dental school at the Medical College of Georgia.

When the letter arrived with a return address THE WHITE HOUSE Washington, DC 20502, Dr. Austin “assumed it was a simple note thanking me for my service” but “was overwhelmed by the honor of the invitation. Additionally, I was asked to march in to the subsequent wreath-laying ceremony” where the president lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the national observance of Memorial Day. The Reserve Officers Association, which Dr. Austin currently serves as national vice president (Naval Services), nominated him to participate in the commemorative events.

Image: Service: President Obama thanks Dr. Gordon Austin
Kudos: President Obama congratulates Dr. Gordon Austin on Memorial Day for his 38 years of taking care of injured Navy and Marine Corps patients.
“The president and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of your company at a breakfast in honor of Gold Star Families to be held at the White House on Monday, May 30, 2011, at eight o’clock in the morning,” the invitation said. The White House invited 50 Gold Star family members who lost loved ones in military service and 12 service organization representatives to observe Memorial Day with the First Family.

Dr. Austin, who represented the ROA, had two uncles killed in military action.

“The president and first lady spent over an hour at the small breakfast, and I had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Obama for several minutes as we discussed her initiatives supporting military families,” he said. “Her questions were well informed and caring. I stood when the president approached my table. As I shook his hand he put his other hand on my arm and congratulated me on 38 years of taking care of injured Navy and Marine Corps patients and thanked me for my ‘extraordinary’ service to the nation.”