“Thank you for protecting us, thank you for my freedom, thank you for keeping us safe and thank you for your sacrifices.” Those were the words I said to our troops as I saw them on July 31st, 2008 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
What did I see you might ask? “I saw the price of freedom that our brave men and women pay for us.” I saw shattered and lost limbs. I talked to soldiers in physical and emotional pain from their injuries and after multiple surgeries. One young soldier of 23 lost his right leg and had just had his 25th surgery, and yet his attitude was remarkably positive. I heard their dramatic stories of survival, the lost lives of comrades and their yearning to return to the battlefield to be with them. I talked to over 35 soldiers who told of the heroism on the battlefield and how they sustained their injuries. Those with injuries had similar attitudes: “I can’t wait to get back to my unit;” “I’d go back and help finish the fight if I could;” “We are winning the war on terrorism;” “The media is not reporting the positive and good that we are doing only the negative;” “We do not want to quit;” “We do not want a pull out;” “We need to stay the course;” “Several countries attempted many times to battle against terrorism with no success, it is the United States that is beating them, we are winning and we are so close;” “If we pull out now what was my injury or the death of my comrades for?” They told of the changes made in Iraq for the citizens and how they are able to be free to live. They go to school, have jobs, the vehicle traffic increased because they are able to drive around without fear. They are in control of their lives. Yes, there is a price that is paid for freedom!
My visit to Walter Reed was to deliver words of encouragement, hope and inspiration along with board games to our troops in Ward 57. I expected to have someone at Walter Reed receive and deliver for me 1) my card with an inspirational verse that I wrote called “Helping Others” combined with my photograph of the American flag and a message of thanks and best wishes for a good recovery to the troops and 2) my donation of Great New Games™ fun and educational board games to their family room. What I did not expect was to have the honor and privilege of personally delivering and talking with our very own American Heroes and their families. I feel so blessed and honored to have met these brave men and women that are fighting for us. Anyone could have the same awesome experience of helping those who help us. Visit with our soldiers, send letters and cards of support or items of need.
My verbal message to each soldier that I greeted was, “I would like to thank you for serving our country and keeping us safe so that I can visit my family and friends and go to college. I appreciate your sacrifice so that I can have these freedoms. I would like to give you something that I wrote to say thank you” (I gave them my verse).
We also visited the Mologne House there on base. The Mologne House is a military hotel for the soldiers to live with their families after their release from Ward 57 but still requiring intensive therapies. We were told that the Malone House needs all kinds of items for the families such as activities to do while they stay. There is a community table in the lobby where anyone can leave items of need. We left my cards and more Great New Games™.
The reaction from all of the soldiers was overwhelming. Their spirit and drive was unbelievable. The continued strength and loyalty to all of us is at the very least to be commended. I felt so grateful to have been inspired and encouraged by such brave Americans. Imagine – they were grateful to me for coming to see them, wow!
Thank You for helping all of us in America to have our freedoms.
I appreciate the sacrifices you have made.
You are America’s special heroes.
All my thanks and best wishes for a good recovery.
You might wonder how I came to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center? I have been wanting to help and say thank you to the men & women who sacrifice so that I can do as I want here in America. I wrote an inspirational verse after 9/11 to thank all those who helped me raise over $3,000.00 for the New York Police, Fire and Rescue departments. It is called “Helping Others” and I feel it is a good one to send to our soldiers as a way to personally help and say thank you to them. How do I reach the soldiers, how do I print it up for them to receive and where do I start?
I have talked with several people who send care packages to the soldiers about putting the verse in the packages. But it seemed overwhelming to me both financially and physically. I am a college student majoring in Computer Graphic Design, I am trying to start a business, publish a book and I have cerebral palsy.
Then came a solution to get started. My mom heard a talk show where the guest, Debra was talking about her project. She was helping to raise funds for Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Ward 57. This is where our heroes come after being severely injured at war. Debra spoke of the project and how they are making football jerseys that say “WARD 57”. The funds will help the families of our injured heroes with various expenses. When asked how else could people help WARD 57 she said, the room where the families wait while loved ones are in surgery or therapy need videos, books, games…
It was the games that turned a light bulb on. I know how I can help and make a difference. After a phone call to Debra, my mom found out that the families have little to do while waiting for their loved ones and that anything that would keep them occupied, help ease their minds and lift their spirits would be great. We suggested donating some of the board games that I am selling. We explained that we were traveling from California to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit family, but we would continue on to Washington, D.C. if it would make a difference for the troops and their families. Debra was thrilled with the idea and said how much it would be appreciated. Mom also mentioned that I write inspirational verses and that I would like to share a special one with the troops. Debra responded that would be fabulous, the troops would love it.
A passion of support was created. I wanted to add an extra touch to the board games I donated, so I asked the CEO of Great New Games™ and game inventor, Dennis Klein to autograph them. It is the goal of Dennis to bring families back to the table to do activities together. The games I sell offer laughter and fun while players learn math skills, anagrams, vocabulary and grammar. The ages for our games are from 4 – 104 and are intellectually stimulating and make you laugh. What’s more our games are made in America using environmentally friendly materials. As for my Helping Others verse I designed it with my photograph on a card adding a special message to the injured troops.
On our trip we planned to spend over a week with family, but after a short visit we told them we were cutting our time so we could go to Washington, D.C. to deliver the games and my verse to the troops in WARD 57. Our family was disappointed, but once we explained the needs of Ward 57, and understanding who I am and my compassion to help others with inspiration and hope, they were ok and wished us well.
Our arrival at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was about 10 am on July 31st, 2008. We talked with Executive Services about our mission. They were very grateful, gave us a cart to load the games and sent us up to WARD 57. I have to admit mom and I were nervous and full of anxiety about what we would encounter. Our first contact was the head nurse on duty Lt. Lindsey Wolf.
We introduced ourselves and told her we came from California to deliver board games to the ward for the family room. We had heard that this was something that is needed and would be appreciated. Lt. Wolf was overjoyed and so grateful. Before she took us to the family room I asked if I could give her something? Her reaction was, “You have something for me?” Yes. I handed her one of my cards, explained that I wrote this verse after 9/11 to thank people for helping me raise funds and I wanted to give it to the troops. I told her, “I wanted to say thank you to you for serving our country and making sacrifices so that I can be free to visit my family and friends, go to college and come here.” She was overwhelmed with admiration for what I came to do, as well as being impressed that I traveled so far to deliver gifts for the ward. I asked her if she would be willing to give my cards out to the troops in the ward? “Oh absolutely they will love it.” She asked if we would take some over to WARD 58, as they are severely injured there too. Yes of course, so off we went to Ward 58 to give my cards and gratitude.
The family room is a small waiting room with a TV, some movie videos and books. Being a man that spends most of my time in a wheelchair the furniture is less than desirable or comfortable. Our soldiers’ families have to spend hours waiting for their loved ones and they should be more comfortable doing so. It would be great if someone or a company could donate some comfortable furniture for the families. The Lt. cleared a small table by the TV for us to put the games and my cards on. She was so thankful for what we were doing and it made me feel good. I asked her if I could possibly visit with some of the soldiers? “Oh, that would be great, they would love it.” She directed us back down to Executive Services for an escort. Sgt Pierce was able to make arrangements for an escort within 45 minutes, a process that normally takes a few hours. Prior to our visit to Washington we had been told that there would be no way we could talk or visit with the troops in Ward 57, that they are right off the battlefield with amputations and are healing emotionally. So we went believing that we would be delivering games and my written inspiration of hope and healing to a person who would in turn place them in the right hands for the troops and their families. It was 11:45 am and we told Sgt Pierce that we had a 10-hour drive to Cincinnati tonight for an early morning departure west bound and we had to leave Washington no later than 1:30 pm.
Our escort Sgt. Arthur Valdez was fabulous, very patient as I stopped and talked to troops in the halls, waiting for the elevator and in the individual rooms. Sgt Pierce had arranged for us to see 4 soldiers, the 4th one we missed due to time and his physical therapy schedule. We visited 3 fabulous and courageous men. The 1st was David age 23 who I related well to as I am 24 in a wheelchair. He lost his right leg from a suicide bomb and assured me that soon we were going to race each other, he with his new leg and me in my chair. He made me laugh with his humor and spirit, so upbeat. He could not get over me coming to see him to say thank you and give him something. We rivaled back and forth with thank you. He is truly a remarkable hero and so grateful to be acknowledged. Our next hero was Sgt John Souza a career soldier with a wealth of experience. Sgt Souza has been to Iraq for 2 tours. He has heard of and seen the positive changes and the good that our country is doing for the Middle East. Sgt Souza had his leg shattered when a dirty bomb was in a room within 10 feet of him, but will be able to walk and wants to return to his comrades. Next was Sgt Tracy Finnerty, another career soldier with a loyalty to America and all of us. Sgt Finnerty was running with his gear to apprehend two suspicious men while trying to protect the General when he sustained a leg injury that became severely infected. Sgt Finnerty was very anxious to get back with his unit and continue the battle. His stories were fascinating but so overwhelming with truth about who we are fighting and why.
At about 2:45 we said our goodbyes to a wonderful escort, thanking him for a fabulous experience and then moved on to the Mologne House to deliver more of the same. The Mologne House offered another fabulous experience of true heroism with our troops and their families. The sacrifices and loyalty to our country and what they do is to be reckoned with. Both my mom and I had the opportunity to see first hand the families’ thirst for activities as they all go through the healing and therapy processes together. We experienced the excitement of the children as they picked up our games from the table to open and see what they were all about; they scampered away with enthusiasm and an anticipation of having fun and sharing them with other families. I myself spoke with a wife of a soldier who had seen us put the games and my cards out on the tables. She picked 2 games up and asked if she could have them. I told her yes that is what we brought them for. I asked her what family member she was there with. She told me her husband. I asked her if she would give my card to her husband and explain that I wrote the verse, message, and designed the card as a special thank you to our troops and I’d like to thank him for his service to our country and the sacrifices he has made to allow me to have the freedom to do this. She seemed overwhelmed, began to read it and then began to cry. She thanked me for everything and ran up the stairs overcome with emotion.
The troops and their families all appreciated my acknowledging their service and sacrifices. As we were leaving I continued to speak to everyone that I could and gave them the same card and message of thanks. Some had an immediate reaction to dismiss my effort of giving them a card but reluctantly took it. Maybe they were thinking I was passing out propaganda; but before we got to the car, they had come to me with their new leg/s, on crutches or wheeled after me to say with emotion THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR CARING!
We left Washington, D.C. with great admiration for our American Heroes and their families. We felt truly honored and blessed to have been inspired in such a way. I would encourage anyone to extend their time to visit with our troops or send them greetings of thanks and appreciation. The rewards are wonderful!!