The Uncommon Decency of Everyday Americans

I’m not going to comment on politics this week; whatever I say will have an incredibly short shelf life. Besides, there’s a better topic — the uncommon decency of everyday Americans.

The Snow Show has promoted the Wounded Warrior Project for nearly three months, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The project has captured the imaginations of many people because it utilizes our natural impulse for commonsense compassion. Project founder John Melia  and his staff have taken on the important chore of welcoming home men and women maimed in service to their country. Some have suffered on foreign fields of war; some were wounded right here at home. Each and every one of them has served the country, and deserves more than a medal to mount on the wall or stuff in a drawer. These folks should have a chance to lead active, full and happy lives.

Despite minimal publicity for the project, hundreds of you have given to the Wounded Warrior Project. Just this week, Danny and Larry Williamson, proprietors of Williams Brothers Catering in Marietta, Georgia, as well as a chain of barbecue restaurants in the Atlanta area, wrote out a check for ten thousand dollars and flew up to Washington for a special event organized by the Wounded Warriors.

That event was a concert by the Gatlin Brothers at the recreation center of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The brothers promised during the Republican convention to make a trip to Washington for the cause, and they made good in spectacular fashion. They flew to Washington immediately after completing their most recent engagement in Branson, Mo., and before beginning their brief vacation.

The Walter Reed rec center isn’t exactly a musical palace; it resembled a 1950s-vintage school gym, with wooden floors and walls, high ceilings and a tall but somewhat shallow stage. The Gatlins didn’t care. They got up and had a great time. They put on a terrific show for free, and wowed the crowd, sticking around for a good 45 minutes signing autographs and chatting with fans.

As I mentioned on the show, entertainers are a frisky breed. That makes them a little difficult to organize, but it also makes them a delight to have around. Larry, Steve and Rudy have become a seamless team. They’re great at making fun of each other, covering for each other, and generally acting like a trio of brothers who are making a good living while also doing good deeds.

One of those deeds was to tour some of the wards at Walter Reed that serve people who have suffered traumatic wounds. We made our way through several, visiting young men and women who felt up to seeing guests. Larry joked with all the servicemen and women; Steve and Rudy talked with each and every one, asking questions and listening as the warriors told their stories.

Rudy got particularly incensed by the fact that virtually every person we visited was wounded not by a hostile fighter, but by a roadside bomb. We got angrier than the victims got, mainly because they understand the nature of the war and the risks of fighting it. It’s also interesting how casually they talk of their wounds. They’ll tell you that they got hit, but that the person next to them died. They seem surprisingly immune to self-pity, although most will admit to feeling natural pangs of rage and remorse from time to time. An amazing number also want to return to the fray.

I’ll close with two tales: We met a young medic whose leg was shattered in a bomb explosion in Sadr City, the most dangerous neighborhood in Baghdad. She lost a toe on her left foot and half a toe on her right. She received hundreds of shrapnel wounds across her arms and chest. She sustained head injuries and lost part of the sight in one eye. Her right leg was shattered, and is being held together by a “halo” device that features a variety of rods that run directly into her leg. In that same leg, she has suffered an infection, so she has an antibiotic drip installed into it as well. She wants to return to Iraq.

She has five children. She has ambitions of getting more involved in medicine as a living. She is extraordinarily poised and determined. And she has carved out a niche for herself as an unusually assertive patient in a ward filled with aggressive and eager patients. When told recently that she couldn’t attend a party in the ward a day after surgery, she insisted on going. She raised enough of a ruckus that the hospital administrator had to settle the matter—she went. When I remarked to a lieutenant who provides security for the floor that she seemed both delightful and willful, he replied: “You have no idea.”

The same applies to a young Special Forces paratrooper who lost an arm in Afghanistan. He has received a mechanical prosthesis, taken and passed with flying colors his medical exams, resumed parachute jumping, and appealed a ruling that he ought not to return to combat. He is bitter that Americans seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan, but not angry enough that he won’t fight with all his might to return to that all-too-obscure field of battle. I’m guessing he gets his way.

The Gatlins visited these two and many more. All of them have stories. All of them have hopes. And all of them deserve everything we give. The Gatlins have stepped up. What about you? If you’re interested, check the home page of the Tony Snow Show website and look for words: “Donate Here.” You can figure out the rest.

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