Heroes, Families Treated to Five-Star Lunch
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 12, 2004 Wounded servicemembers and their families were treated to a five-star luncheon Sept. 11 by Washington's famous Willard Intercontinental Hotel and America's Heroes of Freedom in honor of 9/11 and the sacrifices made by the servicemembers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Florida Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, center, and Susan Brewer,
president and founder of America's Heroes of Freedom, pose with Marine Lance
Cpl. Sean Carroll, who is being treated for his wounds at Washington's Walter
Reed Army Medical Center. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The combatants are being treated for their wounds at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda (Md.) Naval Medical Center.
America's Heroes of Freedom is a nonprofit organization that honors "those who patriotically, unselfishly and heroically risk their lives for our freedom."
Col. Russell J. Frasz, chief of the Air Force's War and Mobilization Plans Division "War Dawgs," conducted a Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony for the wounded, their families and caretakers in the lobby of the Willard, the hotel that has hosted every president, as a sleeping guest or a guest at a social function, since Zachary Taylor in 1859.
Later, Frasz said he spoke to the group "from the heart," telling them that everyone has special days in their lives their first-born, their wedding day, or maybe the day they lost a loved one. That usually stays in that family, or with close friends, he said. "Today is a special day that our whole nation sets aside as a special day," he said on the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. "It's etched in our brain that Sept. 11 is a day that will never be forgotten."
Frasz said Sept. 11 ceremonies like the one he conducted at the Willard ensure that the nation will never forget. "I asked them to think about where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, when they first heard about what was going on in New York, in our own city and what later happened in that field in Pennsylvania," the colonel said.
He asked the audience how those tragic events rallied them to mourn for those who lost loved ones and to mourn for the nation. "We then rallied around our president, who said that those who did this, who challenged our freedom, are going to be held accountable," the colonel said. "We were going to take the fight to them, and there was going to be a global war on terrorism.
"When we go to war, our nation uses its most precious assets, which is our sons and daughters soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen," Frasz continued. "It was nice that the Willard recognizes that. I was first exposed to it last year on the second anniversary of Sept. 11 as a commander at Andrews (Air Force Base, Md.) through the America's Heroes for Freedom and the Willard Hotel."
They told him that they wanted to do something for the troops coming into the aeromedical staging facility at Andrews to show that the troops haven't been forgotten and that the country appreciates those who guard its freedom. "They brought out one of the finest five-star dinners," said Frasz, who was then vice commander of the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews. "They actually brought what we're seeing here today to Andrews and gave those soldiers, sailors and Marines one of the most fantastic five-star dinners.
"I saw the faces change," he continued. "Many of them come from small-town America, and they had a chance to tell their moms and dads, 'You won't believe the luncheon I had served to me.' This year, the Willard said instead of us going to the mountain, we'll have the mountain come to us. So they offered to serve the wounded from Bethesda Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center a similar lunch in one of their finest dining rooms. "
The lunch menu included grilled shrimp on Mediterranean couscous with red pepper coulis, grilled tenderloin of beef with provencal on ratatouille, gratin potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The dessert was a crme de cassis dark chocolate sphere with a black currant gelee center.
Herve Houdre, the Willard's general manager, said during World War II, American servicemembers fought for the freedom of France, Europe and the world. "If you hadn't come and helped us against the regime of terror, today, I would be German," Houdre told the wounded servicemembers. "In Afghanistan and Iraq, millions of people men, women, children one day, like me, will thank you and your children for what you've done for them.
"On Sept 12, 2001, the most important newspaper in France Le Monde stated on its front page, 'We Are All Americans,'" Houdre said. "I can assure you that the whole world was feeling the same way."
He told the war-wounded soldiers and Marines that they went to Afghanistan and Iraq to save the nation from the tyranny of terrorist. "You did all of this so that all of us can live in a less dangerous world," he said. "Today, we all think of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11 and their families. We think as well of all those who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, because we're united here to praise your courage and your sense of honor, and to say thank you."
Houdre then thanked and congratulated the servicemember's spouses, their children and their families for their courage, support and sacrifice.
"As a Frenchman, I wish that my presence here in the most powerful capital city of the world and next to the White House, proves that I believe and support what you're accomplishing making the world a better place to live," Houdre told the wounded combatants and their families.
Florida Rep. C. W. "Bill" Young thanked everyone who came to the Willard "not only to recognize Sept. 11, but those servicemembers who fought and died in the battle to respond to terrorist attacks."
Young said he and his wife, Beverly, visits wounded patients frequently at Walter Reed and Bethesda. "We have a chance to visit with quite a few of the young men and women at the hospitals," Young told the diners. "Beverly wears that billboard that says, 'Support Our Troops,' and that's exactly what we all should be doing, and the fact that you're here today means you're supporting our troops.
"These guys are unbelievable," Young continued. "Their average age is about 19 years old, and they've made tremendous sacrifices for this country in a war that we must win."
Young said the war on terrorism didn't start on Sept. 11. "It started when the terrorist attacked the USS Cole, killing our sailors," he said. "It started when the terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers (in Saudi Arabia in June 1996), killing a number of our Air Force personnel (19 killed and hundreds more injured). The war started when the first World Trade Center bombing took place in 1993. The war started when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by terrorists with tremendous loss of life. This war started when the terrorist bomb killed more than 200 Marines at the Marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon."
The congressman said he and his wife admire the wounded servicemembers for their spirit and their courage. "I think Beverly has seen every wounded soldier, sailor and Marine that has come into Bethesda and Walter Reed," he noted. "What really impresses me is what these kids want to do they want to get better and go back to the fight to take care of their buddies. Can you imagine that?"
Susan Brewer, president and founder of America's Heroes of Freedom, said some Americans would be amazed if they walked the halls of military hospitals and saw the love, care and time that's spent taking care of wounded troops.
"It's quite touching and does your heart good to see it," Brewer said.
"After the Sept. 11 attack, I took the charge that our commander in chief laid to the country, which was the most effective way to fight terrorism is by serving others," she noted.
On a cool September 2003 night, Brewer watched a giant C-17 aircraft land and Andrews Air Force Base, bringing wounded servicemembers home from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. "We watched two soldiers get off the ramp, still in their combat uniforms. One was bandaged, and the other was on a crutch," Brewer recalled. "We watched them get down and kiss the ground. Just as surreal as that is, we heard two F-16s zooming overhead."
She said Frasz looked at her and said, "That's the sound of freedom, but those two men paid the price for it."
"So it's etched in your heart to remember that," Brewer told the servicemembers and their families. "And thank you for the sacrifice. The military does a job that makes me proud to be an American, but it takes all of us to fill in the gaps," Brewer noted.
She pointed out that America's Heroes of Freedom fills in the gaps any way it can. Brewer noted earlier that many people are surprised by how few personal belongings the wounded servicemembers have when they arrive at the hospital.
When servicemembers are wounded on the battlefield, there isn't time to collect their personnel belongings. The priority is to get them the quickest and best medical care possible, Brewer said. To fill the gaps, America's Heroes for Freedom has delivered canvas bags, water, underwear, socks, T-shirts, sweats, pajamas, radios, toiletries, snacks, Girl Scout cookies, music CDs, soft drinks, flags, stuffed animals, magazines and other items.
To the parents and wives of the wounded, Brewer said, "You get flown in once by the government and you have to go back and work as a parent, wife or husband. So who flies you the second, third and fourth time? That's what our organization will do to help you.
"Our commitment for next year is bigger than ever before," Brewer told the audience, adding that the organization isn't federally funded. "We were able to implement over $1.5 million worth of supplies everything from underwear to T- shirts to phone cards to soft drinks to water and flying and lodging families." Brewer said America's Heroes of Freedom's goal is "to never ever have to say no."