Inaugural Ball Honors Wounded Troops, Raises Support Funds
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2005 Troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were treated here last night to a once-in-a-lifetime experience: an inaugural ball in their honor, with a big lineup of celebrities, entertainers and defense brass thanking them for their sacrifices.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz chats with Army 1st
lt. Phil Goodrun, a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, during the
Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The guests of honor at the first Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball were about 150 patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md., and their guests.
Most came in dress uniforms they hadn't worn since before their deployments to Southwest Asia, some wore borrowed or rented tuxedos, but all came ready to party and have a good time.
The event, sponsored by Citizens Helping Heroes and Veterans Foundation Inc., was a fundraiser for three military support organizations: Fisher House, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Washington USO.
Against a backdrop of red, white and blue bunting, candlelight and pulsating music, they celebrated a welcome reprieve from their medical treatment while basking in praise for their military service.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz reminded the group that just two days earlier, President Bush had set the tone for the inaugural activities during the "Saluting Those Who Serve" event at the sports arena MCI Center here. "There's no better way to begin an inauguration which is really a celebration of freedom and democracy than my thanking the heroes who made it possible: the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States for more than 200 years," Wolfowitz said.
He expressed special thanks to "those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and to those who bear the wounds of battle," as well the families that support them, and reminded them that they have helped make the world a better, safer place.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked the sponsors and patrons of the ball and said it shows that America cares about its armed forces. "To have a ball like this with American citizens supporting organizations like TAPS, like the USO, like Fisher House which means so much to all of us that serve or have served is really an incredible thing," he said.
Myers extended particular appreciation of the wounded servicemembers attending the ball and their comrades in arms. "Our armed forces today are a tribute to the courage and determination of our men and women," the chairman said. "We are blessed because we have the freedoms to do what we want to do. But we are really blessed because of those that keep providing us those freedoms in large measure, the men and women of our armed forces."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who made a surprise appearance at the ball, called the Jan. 20 inauguration "a celebration for democracy."
Thanks to America's military, Rumsfeld said, other nations of the world are beginning to experience freedoms like those enjoyed in the United States. He called his recent attendance at the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai "a truly breathtaking experience" and said Iraq will soon experience the same after its Jan. 30 elections.
"You are the best, there's no question," Rumsfeld told the group. "And I am just so pleased to be able to come here and say thank you to each of you -- the men and women who serve our country with such determination and such courage and professionalism. God bless you all, and thank you so much."
But military leaders weren't the only ones expressing thanks to the wounded troops. "You're the best among us. You're the new rock stars!" exclaimed Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera, who served as master of ceremonies at the ball.
Rivera said the days when America shunned its war wounded are gone. "It's easy to welcome home heroes who come strutting down Main Street. But they don't all come marching home. Some have to be carried," he said. "We understand the profound sacrifice that's been made, and our country owes them a profound debt."
Entertainer and filmaker Connie Stevens, longtime supporter of the USO and co- host of the ball, praised the troops' service and dedication. "This is where I want to be tonight, and that's why I'm here: to honor them," she said.
Stevens said she hopes the Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball sends a strong message to troops wounded in combat. "They are not an isolated society," she said. "We should be supporting them and fighting their battles for them. And I hope they go away from this tonight knowing that we really care."
Army Spc. Lawrence Murdock, a member of the 253rd Transportation Company being treated at Walter Reed, said "it's unbelievable how people are responding" to the wounded veterans and expressing their support. "I never thought I'd get to attend one of these events," he said of the ball. "I'm really impressed."
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Bowers, an outpatient at the Bethesda center, called the ball and other events supporting the troops "a real morale boost" for wounded servicemembers. "It really gets the word out that somebody cares," he said.
Army Spc. Richard Hursh, who was wounded when a bomber attacked a mess tent in Mosul just before Christmas, agreed that it "feels great to see that people care."
Army Sgt. Robert Faulk, noncommissioned officer in charge of the physical therapy section at Walter Reed devoted to amputees, said word of the upcoming ball had sent ripples of excitement through Walter Reed. The patients "were really excited about coming here," Faulk said. "They know it's a once-in-a- lifetime thing."
Gail Bozik, who attended the ball representing her son, Army Sgt. Joseph Bozik, said the outpouring of support has helped her son as well as her endure the repercussions of an attack that left him a triple amputee. The sergeant could not attend the ball because he was recovering from surgery the previous day.
America's support for Bozik and his fellow wounded comrades, she said, "is helping me cope, because otherwise, I just couldn't."
Elaine Rogers, president of the USO Metropolitan Washington, said she'd like to see the Heroes Red, White and Blue Ball become a regular inaugural activity, not just for troops wounded in the war on terror, but for disabled veterans from all America's wars. "It's very important for them to have their night, and for them to hear us say thank you for all the sacrifices they have made," she said.