There are heroes everywhere – at least if you read the paper or watch the news. Here – thanks to Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service and with her permission – is a REAL one. warning – Kleenex should be at your fingertips.
Commentary: Wounded Warrior Offers Real Story
By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2009 – Two days ago, I and six other reporters accompanied Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to Texas to see two high-tech operations under way: the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter Lockheed Martin is building in Fort Worth, and the retrofitting of the MC-12 Liberty turboprop at the L3 Communications plant in Greenville.Both efforts have important military implications. The F-35 is a revolutionary next-generation fighter aircraft that the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as eight partner nations, will share. The MC-12 is being outfitted with state-of-the-art gear – 41,000 pieces of it, to be exact – and already is delivering new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in Iraq. It soon will do the same for warfighters in Afghanistan as more come off the line.
Getting to see both operations firsthand was impressive, to say the least. It was gratifying to see the energy, and frankly, the money, being poured into programs that directly support our troops on the front lines.
But almost 48 hours after the return flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., these stops aren’t the ones lingering in my mind.
What replays over and over in my head, and that I find myself sharing with just about everyone I talk with, is the third stop on the Texas trip, where Gates helped to present a wounded warrior with keys to a brand new, all-expenses-paid house near Houston.
Only two other Pentagon reporters and I opted to cover that stop, which most of us hadn’t known about until just days before the trip.
The two factory visits, which included a news conference at the Lockheed Martin plant, had delivered solid, hard-news stories about the F-35, the MC-12 and the situation on Afghanistan that couldn’t wait. Editors wanted their stories. Time was of the essence. That’s how the news business works.
Yet that additional side trip to Cypress, just outside Houston, yielded what to me was the most eye-opening and inspiring story of the day, maybe of the year.
A community came together and raised enough money to buy a brand-new, 3,300-square-foot home for a severely wounded Marine captain and his family. They presented it with no strings attached, calling him a hero and telling him it was part of the debt they owed him for his sacrifices and service.
I admit I’m a bit of a sap. But our motorcade approached the house, I was moved by the outpouring of genuine support. Hundreds of wildly cheering people lined the street and the sidewalk leading up to the front door: Boy Scouts in uniforms, schoolchildren hoisting hand-painted banners, neighbors holding American flags, Marines in their dress blues.
The house itself was packed with well-wishers crammed into every nook and cranny, all focused on a makeshift podium set up in the middle of the living room.
The luminaries made their speeches. Before Secretary Gates spoke, the onlookers heard from Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurt, U.S. Rep Todd Tiahrt from Kansas, and Meredith Iler, national chairwoman for the Helping a Hero organization that made the donation possible.
But it was Capt. Dan Moran, the medically retired Marine they were honoring, who left the group spellbound.
Moran has sacrificed a lot since an enemy attack left him with excruciating third-degree burns over his body, a fractured vertebra and mild traumatic brain injury. He’s undergone more than 30 surgeries and spent two and a half years recovering at the burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
To this day, he can’t control his body temperature and has to stay in a 68-degree environment. He can’t go outside in the sunshine, where his body will overheat and his burns will fester. His face is red and swollen, a testament to his wounds.
But as he stood at the podium in his new living room, he harbored no anger, no blame, no sense of being owed something.
“What do I say to people who have given me so much?” he asked. “Words don’t do justice. So let me tell you right now. It is going to be the way that I live my life. And the way I am going to live my life is by honor, courage and commitment.”
At this point, a tear started rolling down my cheek. Bad form for a reporter, even one who works for the Defense Department. But then another tear followed. I felt self-conscious — until I saw tears rolling down the faces of many others crowding the room. How could anyone not feel the raw emotion of this?
“You can rest assured,” Moran continued. “You made an investment in me and other wounded warriors, and I promise you, you will get a return on your investment in me. … This is how I am going to pay you back: by how I live my life and the impact I will have.”
I looked across the room at Secretary Gates, and it was obvious that he, too, had been touched by the captain. Flying on the plane back to Washington, Gates told reporters that he had jokingly told Moran, “Remind me to never speak after you.”
Moran would have been a tough act for anyone to follow.
As I reflect on the Texas trip, I feel edified by the experience. I’m further amazed at the technology that goes into making our warfighters the world’s best. I’m impressed by the American industrial base – where workers I met expressed genuine pride in the fact that their everyday work is saving lives on the battlefield.
But the image I can’t shake is of Captain Moran at that podium, so eloquently expressing humble thanks and committing himself to a life of example and service.
That’s a news story.
(Donna Miles can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.)