A Day of Volunteering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Written in 2004 by Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella


Before "9-11," and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans had forgotten that Freedom Is Not Free, and that many Americans had made enormous sacrifices to sustain our Freedom. It took these recent events to again recognize that America is blessed with men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect America's future.

 Even so, most Americans do not really appreciate the sacrifices that our military, emergency workers, and their families make. To get a better appreciation of these sacrifices, every American should spend one day as a volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

 The following scenario is based on true events in the lives of two volunteers who are currently serving at WRAMC. The day of volunteering would go as follows:

 You start the day serving breakfast at the Mologne House, a dormitory on the Walter Reed campus for 200 wounded soldiers who no longer need the 24-hour care of Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital as they are fitted for their prostheses, recover from wounds, and undergo physical therapy and occupational therapy.

 When the teenage soldier with one arm extends his tray, you thank him for his service to his Country and tell him all of America appreciates the sacrifice he has made to protect our freedom.

 When a concerned father pushes his son's wheelchair up, you want to say something. You know that the doctors at WRAMC will soon replace the lost legs with state-of-the-art prostheses, but it is still hard to find the right words to express your feelings.

 After breakfast you head to the hospital. As you get off the elevator, you see a soldier who lost both arms. You walk up to him and give him a hug. Words are not necessary. He knows you care.

 You get the Red Cross cart filled with clothing, reading material and snacks and go off to the hospital wards, starting with Orthopedics. You take a deep breath as you enter the ward, as you know you are about to visit 30-40 recently wounded amputees.

 At the first room a family is visiting their soldier and a little girl is rubbing an amputated leg. She looks up and says, "He is still my daddy."

 At the next room an amputee tells you he just wants to be treated like a whole person when he returns home.

 The next soldier shows you his Purple Heart that was pinned on him by President Bush.

 In the next room the soldier tells you that when he saw the tourniquet go on his leg after his Humvee was hit by an IED, he knew that his leg was gone.

 Then you talk to a soldier who is afraid to walk because his sneakers were left behind in Iraq. You find the identical brand for him. A little later you see him in the hallway, and when he spots you he runs up to give you a hug and says, "Thank you."

 Next a big surprise! You walk into a room of a recently wounded soldier, and before you have a chance to say hello, he spots your American Legion logo shirt and says, "I am a Life Member of the American legion, and so is my dad."

 Another soldier sees your American Legion shirt and says he wants to join the Legion back home so he can serve his community. You have a tough time convincing him that he has already served the whole Country.

 During the day you meet many veterans from prior wars who are staying with their wounded sons.

 In the next room a wife tells you about calling home to tell her young daughter that her daddy lost his leg in Iraq. The child responded that 'daddy better go find his leg."

 Then you see a wife holding the hand of her blinded soldier.  And another is rubbing what is left of her soldier's arm.

 In the hallway you spot a soldier walking with his IV pole. You thank him for his service, but he quickly responds, "No need to thank me; I have the best job in the World."

 You spot a soldier in a wheel chair sitting at a computer. You casually ask if he is writing home. He says he is writing back to Iraq because he is worried about the men in his unit. His 101st Airborne unit from Ft Campbell, KY suffered major casualties.

 Your final mission of the day is to give an electric razor to a double arm amputee with new prostheses. You are amazed to see him reach up to take off his backpack, unzip it, take the razor from you, place it in the backpack, zip it up, and put it back on. You get the feeling that this young man is going to do just fine in the years ahead.

 Your positive thoughts about the future of the men and women you have visited are reinforced when you see a double leg amputee with his new prostheses pushing his wife in a wheel chair for exercise.

 You give an improvised in-room baby shower for an expectant wife; she is showered by many presents given by members of the American Legion and the Auxiliary. She is truly surprised and appreciative.

 At the end of the day you bump into the mother of the soldier with the new sneakers. She is not quite sure how to say "thank you", so he invites you to the Fisher House where she is staying and serves you wontons.

 Sunday you go to church and thank God that America has young people like the ones you meet at the hospital. You also pray that there will be no more wounded. But if there are, you ask for the strength to help them and their families.