It seemed like a lighthearted, self-deprecating story at first, as Mitt Romney told a crowd of supporters in Van Meter, Iowa, Tuesday that he and his wife, Ann, had shown up at the wrong Christmas party several years ago while staying at their home in San Diego.
"We had dinner together and got our pictures with everybody. Turns out this wasn't the neighborhood party. This was a family having a party with their friends. So we were a little embarrassed. But they treated us well nonetheless. And I got to meet some really interesting people," he said.
But as Romney, the Republican nominee for president, spoke, it became clear that this was more than a story about a funny misstep. He spoke about meeting one young man in particular who was from Massachusetts, Romney's home state.
"He was a former Navy SEAL. He was living in San Diego. And [I] learned about him. He talked about his life. He skied a lot. He had skied in a lot of the places I had and we had a lot of things in common. He told me that he keeps going back to the Middle East. He cares very deeply about the people there. He served in the military there, went back from time to time to offer security services to people there," Romney said.
Romney then appeared to get choked up as he revealed who the man was.
"You could imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALS killed in Benghazi on September the 11. And it touched me, obviously as I realized that this young man that I thought was so impressive had lost his life in the service of his fellow men and women," Romney said.
"According to the reports on CNN International that I read, he was actually in a different building, an annex, a safe place somewhere else across town when he and his colleagues there heard that the consulate was under attack. And they went there. They didn't hunker down where they were in safety. They rushed there to go help."
Romney concluded: "This is the American way. We go where there's trouble. We go where we're needed. And right now we're needed. Right now, the American people need us."
Romney did not mention the man's name, but the Romney campaign confirmed the former SEAL was Glen Doherty, 42, one of the four Americans killed in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.
The campaign said that Romney met Doherty in 2009 or 2010, and that Romney did not know for sure that the man he met at the Christmas party a few years ago was the same man killed in Libya until a neighbor contacted Romney to inform him in the past few days.