For most married guys like me, the whole “for better or worse” part of the wedding ceremony is a swiftly forgotten theoretical proposition. But for Army Specialist Aaron Bugg and his new bride Lisa McCroskey, it’s a real part of everyday life.
Spec. Bugg was engaged to Lisa when the Humvee he was riding in was hit by an IED in Iraq. When they were married just a few months later, he was staying at one of the three Fisher Houses serving Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The groom wore a specially modified tuxedo to accompany the oversized medical device stabilizing his left leg, which suffered extensive injuries in the bomb attack. The tux, along with bridesmaid dresses, various hairstylings, and a reception at the luxury Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown were all donated through the Fisher House Foundation.
The idea behind the 32 (and counting) Fisher Houses near military medical centers around the nation is to make it possible for the families of wounded soldiers to be near the men and women they love when they’re needed the most. The average stay at Fisher House is about two weeks, but through my work with Fisher House, I’ve met young married couples who have spent six months together–at no cost to themselves–living in a Fisher House while an injured soldier or marine went through treatment and physical therapy.
I discovered the Fisher House Foundation purely by accident: A chance lunch meeting with their executive director led to my radio station, 630 WMAL in Washington, DC, launching a fundraising effort on their behalf. That’s when I made another discovery: The American people are head-over-heels in love with our men and women in uniform.
One Veteran’s Day, I urged my listeners to try and raise $250,000 by Christmas–an aggressive amount, I thought at the time. They just laughed.
In less than we week, they raised the $250,000. A week before Christmas, we hit the $1 million mark. By mid-January, $2 million had been raised and the contributions continue to roll in. Listeners were literally buttonholing me on the street, shoving money into my hands and demanding to know other ways they could help. The Fisher House Foundation had to add staff (donated by a local temp agency) just to handle the flood of calls and letters offering to volunteer.
When a construction worker gives you an envelope with $1,000 in $20s and $50s raised by passing the hat around his job site in a single day, that’s not duty. It’s not abstract patriotism. It’s love, plain and simple.
I know how they feel. When I first interviewed Cpl. Pinedo and his wife, it was all I could do to keep from hugging them live on the air. Here was this young man, 23 at the most, who came back from Iraq missing most of his right forearm, with his even younger bride and the new son he’d never met waiting for him. They were living in a Fisher House while he went through the painful and frustrating process of teaching his body to use a machine where his right hand had once been.
As he sat across from me during our radio interview, calmly talking about the battlefield injury he received, his wife next to him rocking their infant son, all I could think of was the wreck I would be in his place. I wouldn’t have their level of poise and resolve today, much less during my early 20s.
To spend an hour with these young men is to be in awe of their love of country. I’ve spoken repeatedly to volunteers and staff from the six Fisher Houses in the D.C. area, and they can recount on one hand the number of times they’ve heard a young soldier or Marine rail against their fates. Unlike the sofa-cushion patriots back home, they have made the great sacrifice and still believe their country worth the cost.
The power of love is one reason why the Fisher Houses are so appreciated by members of the military. From Colin Powell (a Fisher House supporter) to the local Fisher House volunteers, there is universal agreement that the presence of a wife or mom or dad has a tremendous, positive impact on the health of these wounded servicemen. The recovery process for amputees, burn patients, and others injured in battle is difficult under the best circumstances. Without the Fisher House, many of these wounded young men would go through this painful experience virtually alone.
Thanks to Fisher House, they have a home. It’s a home shared by six-to-twelve other families, and somehow that seems to amplify the effect. An amputee preparing his first meal for himself in a Fisher House kitchen is likely to have an audience that includes another patient who had his audition not long before. The common areas of Fisher Houses are gathering places for families with common experiences and common concerns.
When the news of Iraq’s successful election came across my TV, the first people I thought of were those young couples I’ve met through Fisher House. I knew they were hearing the same news, and I hoped they were as proud of their part in this success as I was of them. I hope they saw the outpouring of generosity to the Fisher Houses for what it really was–a love note of heartfelt affection from a grateful nation.
If the marketing folks at Anheuser-Busch are smart, they’ll fill Valentine’s Day commercial breaks with the Super Bowl TV ad starring American troops arriving to applauding crowds at a U.S. airport.
We’ll swoon again, I guarantee it.
–Michael Graham is a radio talk show host in Washington, D.C.. There are 32 Fisher Houses located on 17 military installations and six VA medical centers, and one new house, at the DeBakey VAMC, Houston, Texas is under construction. You can find out more about Fisher House at www.fisherhouse.org.