TOLONO, Ill. — Their heroic son's birthdate proved lucky for Rick and Ava Tomson, who just won a motorcycle in a raffle.
They used his birthday — June 6, the same as D-Day — in the Marine Corps League Post 1231 raffle for a 2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide worth about $35,000.
The raffle helped support the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the University of Illinois.
But the win had a bittersweet edge.
Their son, Pfc. Lucas Starcevich, 25, died April 16, 2007, of wounds from a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
He was 25, a graduate of Unity High School and Parkland College, and engaged to be married.
Pfc. Starcevich enlisted in 2000 and was on his second deployment to Iraq.
"It's still very painful; even now it's hard to believe," Ava Tomson said. "You just have to be strong and move forward. Our goal is to do things that honor his memory."
She said it wouldn't be honoring his memory to politicize it, when asked about a recent Donald Trump contretemps with a Gold Star father.
"I tried to stay out of" the Trump fight, she said. "Being a Gold Star parent puts you in an unusual situation. You love your soldier, and you have the war.
"No one ever wins in war; in politics, that's how it is as well."
She said patriotism is the most important thing.
"We stay away from a lot of things. We love this country, but we're not going to be used by anyone," Tomson added.
Rick Tomson is a truck driver for Wal-Mart.
Ava Tomson has been active in Military Moms and Comfort Quilts, even before she became a Gold Star mother.
"I still make blankets for military organizations to auction out," she said. "After Luke died, it was too hard for me to do quilts."
His memory is constant.
"We bought the ticket about two months ago at Buffalo Wild Wings," Rick Tomson said. "Since we were the first, we could pick any number from 1 to 700, so we picked Luke's birthday."
It's a white bike, so his mother said Lucas would have liked it. They've already picked it up.
The motorcycle enthusiasts had already planned a first trip, to Camp Butler in Springfield, where the private is buried.
Rick said he was deeply moved by Lucas' sacrifice and downplays his own military service.
"I did serve in the National Guard, but my son gave up his life," he said.
"In my mind, I didn't do anything. I served in a peaceful time. Most of the time when people ask me if I served, I say no. People say, you gave the government a blank check, but in my case, they didn't cash it."
There's a counseling room at the Chez Center for couples dealing with PTSD, and adjacent is a child's playroom.
Ava Tomson is putting together a bookcase, which includes toys, with Joy Henderson, mother of Seth Miller, who died in Germany.
"Lucas' nickname was Star, so it's the Star-Miller children's library," she said. "We'll dedicate it on 9/11. We're getting children's handprints on the bookcase: red, white and blue. A lot of the books we've ordered deal with issues that relate to deployment."