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Denham’s district director at White House
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Mike Anderson was the keynote speaker at Monday night’s tribute to 50 Gold Star Families in the East Room of the White House. President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Anderson’s daughter Allie are seen in the front row. The First Lady invited her to join her staff while attending college next year in D.C. - photo by Photo Contributed
Mike Anderson had President Donald Trump’s undivided attention Monday evening.
The Modesto resident who worked as a sales manager at Manteca GMC Pontiac Buick before going to work for Congressman Jeff Denham who he now serves as his district director was the keynote speaker in the East Room of the White House as part of the candle lighting ceremonies as a tribute to 50 fallen soldiers as part of the extended Memorial Day recognitions.
Anderson lost his son Mike Jr. who died while serving in Iraq in 2004.
In the front row were the President and First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen along with Anderson’s 18-year-old daughter Allie. Also in the room were the families of 48 others who fell in combat.
 “What a crazy night last night, I’m not quite sure how it all came about,” Anderson recalled on Tuesday. “I got a call from the White House about six weeks ago asking if I would be interested in speaking at the President’s Signature Gold Star event.  I was a little apprehensive for how you stand before the world’s most powerful people and deliver a speech — it was actually General John Kelly’s idea to bring me in with Kelly having spoken last year and he, too, is a Gold Star father – and I accepted the speech request and that’s all I know of it.”
He added that every day for two weeks he had received multiple correspondence from the White House in preparation for the Gold Star event.   
“I continually talked to four or five people including his speech writer with them wanting to make sure of the content and they didn’t change one word,” he said. “They didn’t want the President’s speech to interfere with my speech and I had thought I was introducing him and, in fact, he was introducing me.”
Anderson said it was quite a “spectacle” and “very moving” bringing in 50 Gold Star families for about 150 people in the room not counting the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commandant of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Sergeant-Major Green with a lot of other dignitaries.
Of special note, his daughter Allie is a recent graduate of Central Catholic High School. She was asked by both Chief of Staff General John Kelly and the First Lady Monday night to be on their staffs while attending the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She is undecided as to what direction she is headed with the two offices but was thrilled to sit next to Melenia Trump during the event.
Last year was the inaugural to the Gold Star families when Anderson sat next to Karen Pence. He said he was surprised to have been invited back – more so surprised to speak at the event this year that featured 50 large white candles that each family would witness being lighted during the ceremony as their service members name were read. They have a new set of 50 families every year, Anderson said.
The event was the third interaction Anderson has had with Trump during the last year.  Daughter Allie had asked the President during a Christmas visit to the White House if she could see the Oval Office after he had offered her a tour of the East Wing.  At that moment the President motioned to a Marine Corps General to take her immediately to the Oval Office – which he did without hesitation.
At the end of his speech, Anderson stepped down from the podium to take his daughter by the arm and bring her back up near a long series of white candles, taking two walking to light two larger candles representing those who had died in combat tugging at the hearts of their families in the audience.
Anderson’s speech follows in part:
“Welcome to the White House on behalf of our gracious hosts Donald and First Lady Meilania Trump. Thank you for making time for us Mr. President, Ma’am.
“I am humbled and grateful to stand here before you, also, with my daughter Allie.  Like you sitting here today, unfortunately, I am a member of this club where we have a lifetime membership paid for with the blood of our children. I, too, am a Gold Star father of my son, Michael, who as a U.S. Marine volunteered to fight for freedom for the people of our country and for the people of a foreign land he did not know. Our children had a special kind of courage – they were strong, incredibly strong – and now we must be strong for them. We must be strong for them and carry that torch and deliver that message of freedom that they felt so passionately about.
“We parents have few joys in life but raising a living child is certainly one of them – our greatest gift, and we will live with this tragedy for the rest of our lives.  Words cannot describe the sorrow we wake up with every day.  At times we feel alone, and the dark times seem to follow where we must be strong for them, especially in their absence.  I still miss my son every day – every day.  You’ve heard this before, you will hear it again.  We must say their names, they are all a part of history.  They created their own legacy but unless someone tells the story it can happen again – you can’t let that happen. Their memory must be kept alive. Say their names. The Marines are an important component of our heritage and we can continue to honor them by remembering.
“We Americans prefer looking forward rather than back.  The future beckons, the past is yesterday’s news and tomorrow will be better. We are proud of our brave children who have been in dangerous places that many cannot fathom with danger around every corner and sometimes with every step as their courage overcame their apprehensions and they pressed forward as warriors have done since the beginning of time. They can no longer fight, we must continue to fight for them,” he said.
Marine Corps singers Master sergeant Sara Sheffield, a mezzo-soprano and Gunnery Sergeant Russell Wilson on the piano opened the ceremony singing,  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and ended the evening with, “America the Beautiful.”
“For those of you here today, Memorial Day is every day.” Anderson concluded.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email