New Year thoughts for those who sacrifice

Posted By on January 2, 2009

I’ve been looking for something that is a bit more meaningful than the ‘woe is me’ mood I’ve been in as 2008 ended. This morning while reading the Opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, a letter by Karl Rove hit me. If a Navy Seal who has been shot 8 times and has half his face blown off can see things positively, so can we. If a few more of us could be as devoted our country and there fellow men as our devoted military professionals, we would find our current economic slump and “at least mine personal battles” pretty small. Hopefully I’m not the only one to find inspiration from reading this letter.


Let’s Be Worthy of Their Sacrifice

‘The wounds I received I got in a job I love’

By Karl Rove

This holiday season, home in Texas and surrounded by close friends and family, I often found myself thinking about virtual strangers.

I met them this fall when I spoke at the Naval Special Warfare Foundation (NSWF) dinner. The NSWF supports naval commandoes with scholarships and assistance for families of Navy Seals killed or wounded in combat or training.

During my White House years, I came to know of the heroic actions of the Seals and other special operators in the global war on terror. These men willingly follow evil into dark and perilous places. They volunteered to be on the front edge of the conflict whose outcome will shape this century.

The highlight of the NSWF dinner was a video of “snatch and grab” operations in Afghanistan. It showed helicopters lifting off to pounding music, night footage of Seals jumping onto roofs and rappelling into dusty fields, the breathtakingly destructive power of American missiles and machine guns, and compound doors blowing open and terrorist suspects being rounded up.

The Seals who prepared the video had carefully mined President Bush’s speeches, using his voice and words as narration. I was touched by this and knew the president would be, too. So when I met the Seal who’d produced the video, we exchanged email addresses. Later, before he left for Afghanistan for his umpteenth deployment, I asked for a copy of the video to show the president.

He was happy to supply one but had a request in return. Could the wives and children of his unit’s members see the White House Christmas decorations while their husbands and fathers were deployed?

The First Lady readily agreed and with NSWF’s help, 75 Seal family members were greeted at the White House just before Christmas by the president and Laura Bush. It was one of the high points of Mr. Bush’s last holiday in Washington.

On Christmas Eve, I received an email from Afghanistan, with thanks for helping to facilitate the tour. Attached was a picture of the videographer and his team, ready for that night’s mission. Bearded and scruffy, covered with weapons and standing in a rude shelter, they were all wearing bright red Santa Claus hats. It was the best gift I received this Christmas.

I met another Seal at that NSWF dinner. He’d been shot eight times in Iraq and had undergone nearly two-dozen operations. One bullet had taken off part of his cheek and nose. He was destined for reconstructive surgery in a few days.

Yet he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He was full of charisma, confidence, cockiness and joy. After all, he confided, when you’re a wounded Seal, the world’s best doctors want to operate on you so they can brag about it. Besides, he explained, he was just showing that a Seal really could catch bullets with his teeth.

He said that after a couple more procedures, he’d “be back in the game.” I asked what he meant. He was amused and said he was going back into action. “My team needs me,” he said before letting out a laugh. But you knew he meant it, and you knew his team did need him.

He went off to get a drink for his wife. I didn’t want to pry, but I asked her how she felt about him going back into action. She said she was all for it because that’s what he was made for. I had to fight back tears.

The next day, I got an email from the retired Navy Seal buddy who’d talked me into speaking at NSWF. He shared a picture of the sign the wounded Seal put on his Baghdad hospital door.

On it, the Seal had scrawled that visitors shouldn’t “feel sorry” for him. “The wounds I received,” he wrote, “I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough.” And on his sign he promised “a full recovery” and wrote that his hospital room was a place of “fun, optimism, and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, GO ELSEWHERE.” He signed it “The Management.”

I keep this picture with me so I think every day about those I met this fall. And I thought about them often during the holidays.

When I did, I felt awe that such men and women exist, and gratitude that they put themselves in harm’s way for our nation. I hope America continues to be worthy of such staggering service and sacrifice.

May the New Year bring safety to all who wear our country’s uniform, success in the missions they so passionately believe in, peace and comfort to their families, and reunion with all whom they love.


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