America Supports You: Laughter Proves Best Medicine at Benefit Event
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
NEW YORK, Nov. 8, 2007 Laughter and song can be indispensible weapons for wounded servicemembers undergoing painful convalescence, as hope and anguish battle for primacy. Last night, A-listers such as comedians Conan O’Brien and Robin Williams and musician Bruce Springsteen helped some move closer to recovery.
Robin Williams stands at ease with servicemembers on the red carpet Nov. 7, 2007, before "Stand Up for Heroes," a comedy and music event in New York City arranged by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for servicemembers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During "Stand Up for Heroes," a benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for injured servicemembers, hundreds of men and women in uniform shared the red carpet with celebrities at the Town Hall Theater here.
"This is not a political cause," Woodruff, joined onstage by his wife, Lee, told the audience. "Left, right, center, one side or the other, (however) you feel about this war, this is all about how we treat the wounded right here when they return. This is about giving back to those who have given so much for this country.”
In January 2006, Woodruff became the first American news anchor wounded in a war zone after an improvised explosive device detonated near him in Iraq. He and his family created the fund to raise awareness about the hidden injuries of war -- traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder -- and to assist those injured in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The intimate event, a delicate blend of poignant music and sidesplitting laughs, began with the Marine Corps Band performing “Amazing Grace” and “Taps.” As the band performed a medley of the service branch fight songs, audience members in uniform were encouraged to stand when their branch’s song played.
One servicemember who stood as the medley reached its final round was Marine Lance Cpl. James Scott MacKenzie, who served as a rifleman attached to 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, in Rawah, Iraq.
One month after arriving to theater, MacKenzie and his lieutenant were hit by two IEDs in a coordinated attack. MacKenzie’s jaw was shattered, and he received shrapnel wounds in his left arm. His lieutenant lost both legs in the attack.
“It is a pleasure to be here and be able to feel supported,” said MacKenzie, who now works as Marine liaison at the hospital in Camp Lejeune, N.C. “Just to know that you have the support and you’re loved by the others is amazing.”
Last night’s master of ceremonies, Conan O’Brien, was joined by crowd-favorite Robin Williams, political comedian Lewis Black and up-and-coming talent Brian Regan.
As O’Brien took the stage, he reminded the crowd, “I’m a comedian following ‘Taps’!”
“Ladies and gentleman, tonight is about Bob Woodruff, traumatic brain injuries and soldiers in Iraq. Now if that’s not a recipe for comedy, I don’t know what is,” he said as the audience burst into laughter. On the red carpet before the show, however, the comedian took on a serious tone while discussing the night’s themes with American Forces Press Service.
“These people have given so much to our country,” O’Brien said of servicemembers. “Any time you talk about it, it sounds like a platitude, because it’s just so obvious. These are people who were horribly injured trying to serve our country, so we should do whatever we can for them, and we can’t raise enough money.”
Marine Cpl. Murtha, who twice deployed to Iraq as a machine gunner, was hit by an explosion in Fallujah and later in Ramadi. As a result of the blasts, Murtha suffers from memory loss and has some difficulty finding the right words to express himself, he said.
“It feels pretty good to see people here helping us out,” he said. “It’s really good to know that people back home back us up, so I feel pretty good about myself.
“I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the guys I was with,” he added.
During a musical interlude, Bruce Springsteen, with harmonica and acoustic guitar readied, appeared onstage to perform three songs, including “Thunder Road” and the “Devil’s Arcade,” which he dedicated to veterans. Later, “The Boss” rolled his chrome and white 1991 Fatboy Harley Davidson motorcycle onstage for a live auction hosted by Sotheby’s.
Against the auctioneer’s plea, Springsteen gripped the custom handlebars and revved the engine, shaking Town Hall Theater. Minutes later, a bidder near the front row pledged $85,000 for the bike, with proceeds going toward the Bob Woodruff Family Fund.
Dave Woodruff, Bob’s brother, said the Woodruff family felt the tremors of Bob’s injury. “We dropped our work obligations; we made a lot of changes to our lives. It changed our lives completely,” he said.
Dave said laughter played an instrumental role in Bob’s recovery, especially after he returned home. To be sure, Lee Woodruff revealed some of the banter that helped her husband smile through the pain. “I'm the only wife who can say her husband has rocks in his head and actually mean it,” she said.
“Thinking back on it,” Dave said, “the first thing that really returned to him was his sense of humor. He started cracking jokes right out of the box, literally the day he woke up.”
Woodruff said his family was impressed by the bond he saw among servicemembers.
“The guys we saw at Bethesda (National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland) who were so badly injured, the first thing they would say to us is, ‘We want to go back to my unit.’” he said. “That just impressed us so much that we really fed off that, and I think that’s a lot of why we want to help these guys.”
After the show, scores of servicemembers, still smirking from memories of the performances, poured out of the theater.
“It was great!” Navy Petty Officer Paul Kurtz said. “It was also great to have all these servicemembers together to honor the guys that are wounded. Everybody here supports them, the servicemembers, the entertainers and the civilians.”
America Supports You is a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.