Chefs Treat Patients, Families to Special Dinner
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2004 Chefs from 10 area restaurants prepared a smorgasbord of savory delights for war-wounded patients and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here Dec. 13 for a flavorful and thoughtful beginning to the holiday season.
Robert Wiedmaier, second from left, chef/ owner of Marcel's
Restaurant, rounded up nine of his chef buddies to prepare bountiful, savory
culinary delights for patients and their families at Washington's Walter Reed
Army Medical Center on Dec. 13. At the left is Marcel's maitre d' Adnane
Kebaier, the chef, his parents Gini and Mike Wiedmaier and Marcel's server,
Rigga Elfatimi. The dinner was held in the Mologne House Hotel on the Walter
Reed campus. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dubbed the "2004 Holiday Celebration Honoring Our Troops," the menu included barbeque braised short ribs with creamy mustard grits, mini crab cakes, spiced guinea hen with chestnut and mushroom stuffing, hearty bison stew with potato puree, seafood chowder, and dessert platters.
This marked the second year the Mologne House Hotel opened its doors to throw a dinner party for wounded war veterans and their families, including those from the nearby National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The hotel, on the Walter Reed campus, houses outpatients and families visiting patients.
"This all started last year because of a big Saint Bernard dog sitting in front of Walter Reed Hospital and the patients and their families stopping to ask me about her," said Virginia Wiedmaier. She and her husband, retired Air Force Col. Marcel Wiedmaier, were at the hospital the latter part of October 2003 for medical appointments.
Several wives of injured servicemembers were sitting outside, and Wiedmaier asked them what the patients' biggest complaint was. "They all said, 'Food!'" Wiedmaier said. "I said, 'Maybe I could do something, about it because my son, Robert, is a chef here in Washington and the owner of Marcel's Restaurant."
She talked it over with her husband, and he had a "little conference" in the restaurant with his son, and the deal was done.
"My dad and my mother said it would be nice if I could do something for the troops as a chef to feed them something special," Robert Wiedmaier said. "I took it from there with my management staff and chef friends in the city and said, 'Let's do a dinner here at the Mologne House for the troops.' It went off really well last year."
This year, United Service Organizations volunteers, including military chefs from the White House, the vice president's residence and the Pentagon general officers' mess joined with the 10 chefs and staff of Washington's finest restaurants to prepare and serve dinner to patients and their families.
The USO also brought in the big MCI truck "Big Blue" and treated patients and their families to three hours of free phone calls to anywhere across the globe.
"It's a wonderful thing that these chefs can take time to cook all these great meals for all the soldiers and their families; these soldiers deserve it, too," said Army Spc. Joey Banegas, who lost part of his right leg in Iraq. "You've got all these soldiers here that are single, and a lot of them can't go home for the holidays.
"I pretty much had a sample of everything, and everything was great," Banegas noted.
His wife, Jennifer, said, "At first I was surprised. I didn't think this many people actually cared about our troops. I think it's very well-deserved. It's awesome that they all can come together to raise the Christmas spirit of the soldiers."
"We're lucky enough to get to go home for the holidays, which a lot of these soldiers won't be able to do," said Banegas, of Hatch, N.M., "the chili capital of the world," his wife pointed out. "We're going to spend a month at home, and my wife is coming back with me to help me rehabilitate until I'm able to leave."
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffery Foley got down on one knee to talk to Spc. Rosetta Floyd as she sat in her wheelchair. Later, Foley, director of command, control, communications and computer systems for U.S. Central Command, said, "I feel so small in this room with all these veterans who have been injured and who displayed such enormous courage, both going into Iraq and now the courage they have to display on sustaining life in recovery. It's an amazing set of strengths I'm seeing with all these guys and gals and what they've got to go through."
Floyd said that was the first time she met the general, but she's pleased that he took time to talk to her. She told him that she was hit in Iraq on Aug. 25, 2004. "A mortar round hit about five feet from me, killing my friend next to me and seriously injuring me," Floyd said.
"I wish they would do it more often, Floyd said about the special dinner. "It keeps our heads up, and it's good food too."
Staff Sgt. Juanita Wilson agreed. "This lets us know that the American people do love us and appreciate the great sacrifices that are being made," said Wilson, who was injured in Iraq on Aug. 21 while serving with the Hawaii-based 411th Engineers. "However, in order for servicemembers to feel appreciated, it's the American people who make us proud of where we've been and what we've been through. So thanks for the great food. This is a very humbling experience."
In addition to bountiful food, there were a lot of prizes, giveaways, and raffles, including cash.
Lawrence K. Doll and his wife donated local professional and university basketball tickets for the patients and their families. The couple also provided toys for each child who attended the dinner. An equal number of presents was sent to children of Bethesda patients. Doll also stuffed 10 envelopes with $100 each for a drawing, half for patients at Walter Reed and half for patients at Bethesda.
A 35 percent disabled combat veteran, Doll said when he was wounded in Vietnam, he was treated at Bethesda, so he has experienced what the combat wounded are going through today. A Marine Corps sergeant during the Vietnam War, Doll is now chairman of the board for United Bank and owner of Lawrence Doll Homes and Fat Punks' Restaurant in Manassas Park, Va.
"A friend of mine, a former Army sergeant major, gave me a check for $400 and said, 'Just have the servicemember fill that in,'" Doll said. "I sent that over to Bethesda for a guy who lost both legs, and he has a family. So they can use that money.
"I feel for these guys and women -- and I want them to know that we're proud of them, and that they're going to be OK," Doll said. "And we all are going to take care of them. This doesn't have to be a once-a-year, Christmastime thing," Doll said. "There might be some other things that could be done for these servicemembers to basically let them know we're here, we care and will do whatever we can to help them."