A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


April 27, 2012

Humble Heroes

     It has taken me a week to collect my thoughts on one of the most blessed experiences I have ever had. Through God's unfathomable connections, He made it possible for me to serve our Wounded Warriors at the Fisher House, located at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio.
     The Fisher House Foundation was the brain child of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, American philanthropists, who saw a need and filled it.  According to "legend", the Fishers were made aware of the need for temporary lodging facilities for families at major military medical centers, by Pauline Trost, wife of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle Trost.  Upon arriving at Walter Reed Hospital, Zachary and Elizabeth encountered a military family sleeping in their car because it was too expensive to find lodging in Washington D.C.  So, in 1990, the Fisher House Foundation became a reality, and since the program's inception, more than 50,000 families have stayed in Fisher Houses.
     These temporary living facilities serve as "homes away from home" for families of military personnel who are undergoing treatment at military or VA hospitals.
     Now that you know the history and the facts about Fisher House, let me give you the personal side; let you in on what I experienced in 3 remarkable days....
     When I arrived on Post, I felt almost as if I had entered another planet; certainly it was a world apart from the average citizen's day in busy and hectic San Antonio.  Almost everywhere I looked were people in wheelchairs or on crutches; their amputated limbs obvious reminders of horrific injuries.  But on this Army post, they were the norm, not I.
     I walked to Fischer House #3, where my volunteer group was meeting for a devotional time after having served breakfast to the families that morning.  I cannot stress enough how dedicated this group was to their mission.  Called Angel Chefs, they were a small group of women (and one man) from an East Texas Baptist Church, whose task these few days was to provide delicious meals for the families.  And while that may not seem like such a huge contribution, let me tell you that preparing three meals a day for several days in a row, meant that we were up at 5 each morning, and didn't get back to our hotels late each night.  But I am not writing to boast about our activities....it was nothing in the face of what these courageous families have been through.  And the most astounding thing?  THEY THANKED US!  Over and over!
"Angel Chef" Danny
& Chaplain Casteel 
     That first morning, I missed the breakfast run as I was traveling to my destination.  When I arrived, the Angel Chefs were sharing a devotion time with Chaplains Casteel and Delgado.  These men were open about the challenges they face in practicing their faith in the military.  The social culture (Don't Ask/Don't Tell) and the PC culture (Christianity is being increasingly restricted in favor of religious tolerance) have left their mark on the military.  But these faithful servants of God are committed to fulfill their duties to their fellow man, while not compromising their Godly principles.
     After this devotional and quick introductions to my fellow "Angels", it was time to prepare lunch.  Having never been involved with this operation before, I wasn't sure what was expected of me.  Our leader, Connie, who was so organized and focused, made it easy for me to transition into the group.  For lunch that day, we were serving chicken spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and tons of desserts, along with iced tea and lemonade.
     The common kitchen in this Fisher House had 4 ovens (that made it easy to heat up the 10 huge pans of spaghetti!) and a huge marble-topped island from which we served.  Our job was to get it prepared and laid out on the island, so that they could serve themselves.  Connie was quick to point out that we needed to leave space along the edge so that those in wheelchairs could slide their plates along; and it might be necessary to serve them and carry their plates into the common dining room, if their injuries prohibited them from doing it for themselves.
Miguel and his wife, Lourdes
      The times for meals were posted, and as the hour approached, they started arriving; on crutches and in wheelchairs; some jovial and joking, others quiet and timid.  While some of us served, others grabbed a plate and sat down with the soldiers, visiting with them and letting them know we were there for them.  And that's when everything changed for me.  These men and women were no longer nameless injured personnel, they became people who I connected with, and who have left a permanent mark on my soul.
     None of them were from Texas, so we laughed about Texans' obsession with serving jalapeƱos with every meal; and to a man, none of them had ever had "chicken" spaghetti!  But with each successive meal, they opened up more and shared their stories and their frustrations and their hopes.
     Once they realized that we did not look upon them as charity cases, but saw past their physical injuries, their personalities and strength came shining through.  Some injuries are worse than others.  We saw single, double, and triple amputees; along with soldiers who were there while receiving cancer treatments.  And you could tell that having their wives and children, or parents, with them was a great advantage in their healing process.
Ed is standing tall and walking!
    But their resilience and fighting spirits are what will stay with me for the rest of my life.  There was Ed, who suffered his injuries in Afghanistan.  He was in a coma for 5 months, and subsequently lost both of his legs, suffered a spinal cord injury, a head injury, fractures in his back and face, (including a broken jaw), and partial paralysis on his left side from a stroke.  But each morning he arrived in our borrowed kitchen to engage us in witty and challenging conversation.  He credits his wife, Karen, with giving him unending support and a reason to work hard to overcome his injuries.
     And the wives were as much of an inspiration as the injured soldiers.  Beautiful Nadia, with her soft, quiet personality, haunts me.  Her husband, Justin was a double amputee.  Normally a live wire, he arrived one morning for breakfast, obviously down-in-the-dumps.  One of the Angel Chefs asked him, "How are you doing this morning, Justin?"  His response:  "Not too good."  And he seemed so dejected that we all rallied around him.  It seems that he and Nadia were being asked to move out of Fisher House to less "home-y" accommodations in the barracks.  Apparently, his wheelchair did not fit into their truck, so he required transportation back and forth to his various therapy locations by Army bus and it was just not convenient to come across Post to the Fisher House.  As Nadia sadly explained to us, later that day, it was the fifth time they had been asked to move, and they just wanted to be "settled".
"Angel" Betty in chapel
     We encountered her as we walked back to our car later that night, and my Angel companion asked her, "This isn't what you signed up for, is it?"  She sadly smiled and said, "No.  He was in a coma for a month and a half and that was so hard.  And to be honest with you, if he didn't have such a happy disposition and wasn't trying so hard to get well, I'm not sure I could make it."  The next morning, Justin greeted us at breakfast with his usual buoyant temperament, and Nadia was at his side, her back straight and her head held high.
     The story was the same with each family we met.  Dan was the jokester, claiming since he was in Texas for his rehabilitation, he now had an alias, "Billy Joe Bob."  He hung around our kitchen, loudly proclaiming that the fajita lunch was his favorite, and we ladies could adopt him if we wanted.  We wanted!  One afternoon, after we had cleaned up the kitchen and had a few moments to relax before beginning preparations for an evening shrimp boil, Dan joined us in the dining room.  For once, he dropped his joking facade, and revealed the set-back he had recently encountered.  He was in a wheelchair, and when asked when he would get his prosthetic, he suddenly became serious.  "The Army has repo'd my leg," he said.  We asked for an explanation and he told us that he had received a prosthetic and was progressing quite well, when he fell and re-opened the wound on his stump.  His hamstring separated from his femur and he now had to rehabilitate that injury before he could regain a prosthetic.  Feeling sorry for oneself is not something these soldiers allow themselves to do, so within minutes, Dan was doing tricks with his amputated leg, and making us laugh.  His wife, Jeannette, breezed through the dining room on her way to a shopping trip with another wife, and admonished him, "Don't forget it's your day to pick up the girls from school."  It was plain for all to see that Jeannette would not let this situation control their lives.
     Dan also credits her with keeping his priorities straight.  He recounted to us how Jeannette would not allow anyone to feel sorry for them and that he wanted his daughters, Gracie and Kaylee, to know that nothing could stop him.  Again, he thanked us profusely for what we were doing for them, and I asked him, "Don't you guys know that it is you, we are here to thank?  We know what we owe you, and you are heroes to us."   His modest reply:  "Ma'am, I was just doing my job, and I'd do it again."
Vince is all smiles
     These stories were repeated each hour of each day that I had the opportunity to serve these men and women.  Their names and their faces and their lives will always be intertwined with mine.  They were so gracious to allow us to share in their individual situations....and accepted our offers to pray for them:  Joe that his latest cancer regimen would work, when others had failed; Ching whose beautiful bald head told her story of fighting leukemia; Nilssa who is battling breast cancer; Miguel and Lourdes, who just want to find a "safe" place to live after he is released; Vince and Thomas, who were reticent at first, and then opened up to us about where they came from and what their hopes were; and of course, Ed, Dan and Justin.
     But I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the committed house staff that cares for our wounded warriors.  Inge, is the manager of Fisher House, and she runs it with a dedication and energy that matches her charges.  The sweet custodial care-takers, Connie and Vicenta, supplied us with all the support we needed and made us feel at home.  I thank God that our injured warriors have such kind and caring staff to assist them.
     When our time to serve was completed, I didn't want to leave.  I was so attached to each of them, and they were such a blessing to me.  Each of the wives told us they would miss us, and I know they fought back tears, as did I.  Many of the soldiers allowed us to hug them, and we felt like we were leaving family. And I know it may sound trite, but it's true....I received so much more than I gave.  These soldiers, and their wives and husbands, gave me a glimpse of true heroism; and they exemplify what honor and duty truly mean.  I don't really know how their transition to the "outer" world beyond Fort Sam Houston will be, but I will pray that their sacrifice has not been in vain, and they will reap the rewards they deserve.  God Bless Them All!

 
     
John 15:13:    "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

1 comment: