West Coast Wounded Warriors
July 14th Dinner:
On the evening of July 14, 2011, our west coast division (San Diego) served meals to approximately 150 wounded warriors and their family members. This dinner, or better called epiphany, reflected the special relationship that has developed over the past five years between many of the volunteers and the wounded warriors at Balboa. The dinner was special in that all present felt it like one big, family reunion. Volunteers described the dinner as, “A great night!” filled with “lots of energy and love” and “Amazing.” One wounded warrior addressed the volunteers as “Dad” and “Mom.” Another referred to them as part of “my Marine Corps family.”
Parts of the dinner were very emotional for the volunteers. What does a volunteer say to a Marine, who has had numerous surgeries over the past year and with whom you have shared numerous meals and laughs, when he comes up to you with tears in his eyes and says, “My med board and discharge have come through. I’m going home. Thanks for everything. I’ll miss you!” Many volunteers and Marines hugged and cried together.
One Marine parent, Maria Ramos, has three sons who were Navy Corpsmen. Each decided to serve with the Marines. The first two sons served with distinction and returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan safely. Her third son Redd was not so fortunate. He stepped on an IED last January while on patrol with 3/5 in the Sangin district, Afghanistan. Click here for a link to a news article about his platoon (Redd is on the far left of the picture). After many surgeries to save Redd’s left leg, Redd and his doctors at Balboa decided several weeks ago it would be best if the leg were amputated below the knee and he were fitted with a prosthetic lower leg. His first steps with his ‘state of the art’ prosthetic leg occurred the morning of our dinner. That night, with a big smile on his face, Redd proudly showed all of the volunteers pictures of his first steps with his new leg. Redd Ramos’ parents had tears in their eyes when they thanked everyone for supporting their son.
The volunteers show their love and support for the wounded warriors at each twice-monthly dinners and every day they are at the hospital. But nothing can replicate the love and bond the Marines share between themselves at these meals…feeding a friend who can’t feed himself, making room at their dinner table for another in a wheelchair, sharing pictures or text messages on their iPhone or asking for a ‘take- out’ meal for a friend who is too sick to make it to the dining room.
Joyce Orrell, the PHHS West Coast manager, personally ensures that all of the wounded warriors at Balboa get lots of tender loving care, from hospital visits and phone calls/texts to field trips and dinner outings. Maria Ramos said it best: “Who are these guys and gals? They’re doing a great job. Where else would you find men and women who visit my son in the hospital?” And Joyce, you’re an honorary family member.”
- Reported by Buck Ramsey
East Coast Wounded Warriors
July 17th Dinner:
Purple Heart Hero Support East volunteers served 135 burrito dinners to wounded warrior patients, their families and medical staff at Bethesda Naval Hospital on Sunday, July 17, including dinners set aside for a newly arriving patient and his family. There are an unusually large number of patients currently at the hospital. The entire hospital complex is under construction, but family members and staff are taking the situation in stride, as they are facing much more important challenges. We are grateful that we have the opportunity to offer them our small gestures of support. Service dog Josh, an 11-month-old black lab, was at the hospital with his Veterans Moving Forward handler Karen. He is always popular.
A tray of meals was sent up with corpsmen to the traumatic brain injury and psychiatric floor for patients and staff. Our volunteers also went to the critical care floor with the Marine Liaison Officers on duty to invite families there to come up to our dinner. Family members on the fifth floor took burritos back to their sons' rooms and in a few cases came back for more. We are so glad the Mexican food hit the spot with the patients. Others grabbed a quick bite before heading out on an excursion to see a production of Fiddler on the Roof at Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center. We hope they enjoyed their break from the hospital.
As family members came in for dinner, we offered the children coloring books and crayons. Adults were given Marine Parent business card holders to help them organize the many cards of the various specialists treating their Marines. We also handed out information about Operation PAL (Prayers and Letters) so that people around the country will be able to express their appreciation to these wartime heroes by mailing them cards.
In our conversations with parents, we heard about how their sons are progressing through long hours of surgery and sleepless nights, eventually getting to the point where they can joke with their nurses about their medication and tests.
As we were stowing our leftovers in the pantry, a patient's wife told us how happy she was to get some Pepsi from us, because all the hospital has on hand is Coke. It's the small things sometimes that can sometimes make all the difference. A patient's mom told us that her husband would publicize our Pepsi Refresh contest in his blog. Two medical staff took our last tray of chips and salsa back to the west end of the ward, saying that it would make a lot of people very happy.
- Reported by Susan Kristol
July 31st Dinner:
Seven Purple Heart Hero Support volunteers served 130 burritos and fixings to wounded warriors and their families and dedicated medical professionals on Sunday, July 31, at Bethesda Naval Hospital. As the merger with Walter Reed approaches in a couple of weeks, signs of construction are everywhere. The fifth floor is filled with patients and large families, often of three generations, including many adorable children. We sent meals up to the Traumatic Brain Injury/PTSD ward and the Behavioral Health ward, and we also served families visiting loved ones in the Intensive Care Unit.
We recognize many familiar faces, but each week there are also many new families supporting their wounded heroes. Sometimes parents with Marines in the same battalion will meet each other for the first time outside the conference room where we serve dinner. They will be able to give each other the comfort and support that only someone who has “been there” can give. As part of our mission to help families face the medical maze, we distributed resource books, business card holders and Operation PAL sign-up forms.
Our PHHS volunteers were joined by Veterans Moving Forward dog trainer/handlers Karen and Kimberly. Josh, the black lab assistance dog in training, was named after fallen Marine Josh Davis. He brings such love to the Marines and their families. Also a favorite was Yarnell, a yellow lab. We’ll include his photo next time.
Volunteers added homemade brownies, peanut butter cookies, Girl Scout cookies, Oreos, fresh strawberries and grapes to our usual Mexican fare. We greeted the children with their choice of coloring book (princess, circus, Smurf, or dinosaur) and crayons. One young man came to our buffet table riding on the lap of his wounded father, who juggled a drink, salad, chips, burrito, salsa and cookies with great poise. Meanwhile, the toddler in the family couldn’t decide whether to push his own stroller or simply ride. We met an Army mom from New Jersey with four teenagers who were all there to support their severely wounded soldier brother. We also met a family from California, a family from Texas, a family from Illinois, a family from Michigan—the list goes on. We are filled with gratitude for the heroes from all over our country who protect our freedom and their families who support them with such love.
- Reported by Susan Kristol