Visiting Maj. Nidal Hasan’s hospital
While the military still is reeling and recovering from the massacre at Fort Hood, my wife Gena and I decided to boost the morale of military personnel by visiting the cadets at West Point and the wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical
Center, at Fort Sam Houston. Little did I know that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood, was hospitalized there.
The day before Veterans Day, we visited West Point. We were amazed by its pristine and picturesque setting, 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River. It was also fascinating to learn more about the academy’s history. From the day of its founding, March 16, 1802, West Point has produced some of our country’s greatest leaders, including Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Schwarzkopf and Petraeus, etc.
It was inspiring to watch the cadets’ unyielding commitment to develop their minds, bodies and spirits. It was also a joy to see this international Corps of Cadets take a little time even to have fun with my tough-guy image and reputation. For example, one of the senior cadets named Taylor had a picture of me in a frame but with his name inscribed underneath it. A French cadet with a very heavy accent spoke on behalf of other French comrades and read aloud this Chuck Norris “fact”: “When an episode of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ was aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.” He then followed it up by stating, “We’ll surrender if you take a photo with me and my fellow French cadets!” Of course, I obliged.
There are few words to express the awe and inspiration Gena and I felt as we spent the day with the cadets at West Point. As I sat speaking to a large group of them for about 45 minutes, I was taken aback by their resoluteness andwillingness to grow. Guided by the academy’s timeless motto, “Duty,Honor, Country,” their passion, discipline and fortitude for buildingthe next generation of leaders was vividly clear and renews my hope forAmerica’s future.
Wewere equally inspired a couple of days later, when we went out toBrooke Army Medical Center to visit with America’s wounded warriors.How can one put into words the pride one feels around these brave menand women? Despite the loss of limbs or suffering from some othersacrifice in battle, their resolve and class were off the charts. Theywere enthusiastic and grateful about our visit, but it was my wife andI who were truly blessed and inspired by them.
Thencame a moment that would have been completely surreal if it had notbeen a staggering reality. As we were visiting the burn unit, wediscovered that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood whomurdered 13 and wounded another 30, was being treated in the samefacility. To be honest, it made me sick to my stomach and sent shiversof disgust down my spine.
Ifever I have experienced a polar opposite, it was in the moment when Iwas thinking about how Hasan is the sheer antithesis to the character,commitment and service of all the other men and women we met at WestPoint and Fort Sam Houston. I was equally moved by the civic servantsand military medical staff, many of whom knew victims of this assassinyet turned immediately around and became his caregivers. They areexemplary models of the patriot and founding father Thomas Paine, whosaid, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even hisenemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty, he establishes aprecedent that [eventually] will reach himself.”
Wealso visited Brooke Army Medical Center two years ago and recallmeeting a young soldier by the name of David, who had just been flownin from Iraq and was in the intensive care unit suffering from burnsthat covered more than 90 percent of his body. Two years later, Davidcame walking down the hospital corridor to greet us. We were overjoyedto see him again, and we could tell that he felt the same seeing us,though his gravely burned face was not able to muster even a smile. Weagain shared some choice, heartfelt moments with David. I couldn’t helpbut say to him, “David, you are absolutely one of the toughest soldiersI have ever met.” Even then, he tried to smile as he quipped, “Tougherthan Chuck Norris?” “Yes,” I replied. “You’re much, much tougher than Iam!” It’s in times like these that I’m also grateful for militarychaplains and the work of men like retired Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, whowas burned on more than 60 percent of his body when hijacked AmericanAirlines Flight 77 collided into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Aftermore than 30 surgeries, Birdwell now uses his life to bring hope toothers (www.FaceTheFire.org). His story also is told on pages 42 and 43in my friend Randy Alcorn’s latest best-seller (which provides help forthose struggling through pain and difficulty), If God Is Good, a copy of which I will be sending to David along with Birdwell’s book, Refined by Fire. My hope is that Birdwell also drops by to visit David when his very speaking schedule takes him again by Fort Sam Houston.
Thenight before we left for Brooke Army Medical Center, our 8-year-oldtwins drew pictures and wrote encouraging letters on their owninitiative and asked us to give them to wounded warriors. Gena gave mydaughter’s letter to David. He reached out and received it with his twobandaged and handless arms and then read the letter (in my daughter’sown writing and phonetic spelling, I might add):
DearSolger: I am very sorry you are hurt, but thank you for helping ourcontry. I’m going into military school just like you guys did. I hopeyou guys get better.
Your friend, Danilee As the Scripture says, “From the mouths of children and infants, you have created perfect praise.”
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