Brian, a Naval Officer, sends this first hand report. If you do buy some service member dinner, try to do it anonymously as you might embarrass them otherwise.
Matt, I live in suburban Washington, DC. I’ve been in the Navy 29 years; 12 enlisted (hospital corpsman), 17 commissioned (Medical Service Corps). Got a few more to go…
But anyway, I’m up at the National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda) yesterday for a post-op check on some back surgery I had on Monday. My sister, who’s a State Farm agent in the Midwest, has sent me a few hundred phone cards to pass out to the Marines and sailors in the hospital, so I’m making rounds on all the wards, giving them to the nurses to pass around. There’s some great work getting done there (and at every other military hospital), but that’s for another story.
<...> As we’re having dinner at a nice little eatery up the street, I spot a young Marine I’d seen at the hospital a little earlier. He’s an inpatient, just back from the shit; still sporting the wristband and wearing his hospital pajamas under a windbreaker. He’s lost an eye, a good-sized patch of his cheek and who knows what else. My guess was that the couple he’s eating dinner with are his folks, but I’m wrong.
I pop over to check on him, thank him for his service and subsequently find out the following. They aren’t his parents. His parents live in California and wouldn’t be getting in until tonight. These folks had driven down from Philadelphia for a week, on their vacation time, to visit the troops in Walter Reed and Bethesda. Every night, they’re taking a troop out for dinner, someone who’s able to ambulate and who doesn’t have family in the area. You could tell this meant everything in the world to the Marine, and, to them.
They have 7 of their own children, 2 still at home. The two at home are staying with friends. I got it immediately (I have a flair for the obvious)—they had taken vacation time from their jobs, farmed the kids out with friends, just to drive 300 miles on their own dime, to visit wounded American troops.
Jeez, I could hardly make it back to my table without spilling tears.
It gets better. I decide a good idea would be to pick up their check, so I call over the waitress. “Too late,” she says, “somebody else already has, but you’re the fourth person who’s offered.”
That, my friend, sounded pretty good to me. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything like it in 29 years in the Navy.
Listen, since you’re in a position to do so, how about encouraging your readers in the Metro DC area to call Walter Reed and Bethesda to see what they can do to help out this holiday season? I’m opening my home to any family member who needs a place to stay while in town. The Navy Lodge and the Fisher House are full up through the New Year, so this might be well-received.
Thanks for all you do.
Brian makes an excellent point. My wife and I recently bought four Marines lunch at PJ Clarke's (after a parade here in Chicago) and talked them into a beer - they were in uniform and drinking "adult beverages" while in uniform is a BIG no-no; however, one of them was Irish and had parachutist wings (like another paratrooper that I happen to know very well...) - I knew I could wear that guy down. We tried to buy their lunch anonymously, but they were insistent on knowing who we were. It actually embarrassed the waitress as she went back and forth between our tables making it obvious to the Marines who their friend was...I finally just got up and went over to their table.
If any family member of someone at a military hospital in the DC area would like to take Brian up on his offer, please email me.