26 April, 2006

Four More Days for Fran's

Have you done all you can for Fran O'Brien's and the family they've developed to support severely wounded troops?

Rumor has it there are still conversations going on between lawyers, so not all hope is lost. What we need right now is to help Hilton understand it is to their benefit to give Fran's enough time to find and establish a new home so that Fran's can make a smooth transition for the sake of the wounded soldiers, and for the employees and volunteers who have been trained in supporting the wounded and have established relationships with them. For example, Fran's employees were given cell phones and have been "on call" for anyone who needs a ride, an encouraging word, or anything else that can be offered.

Friday Night at Fran's isn't just a dinner, it's an entire community centered around that restaurant. The wounded know they can drop by on any day and find at least one person who cares and can "be there" for them. The night I was at Fran's, I watched one particular very young wounded soldier spend a lot of time in the bar. I didn't know his story, but as several others I spoke with noticed, his body language made it clear he was having a tough time. I saw Hal Koster put his arm around him and talk to him. Other people I knew were vets and lived in the DC area also came up to him and put their hands on his neck as they put their faces close to his, making deep eye contact and earnestly talking to him. By the end of the evening he was clearly more relaxed, and even smiling a bit. The community had obviously recognized his need and rallied around him, lifting his spirits.

I received a comment on my post about the SSG's speech from someone with intimate knowledge of the community that has developed around Fran's (we've corresponded). Lawrence Kelly had previouly commented at Andi's about the "salon-style" aspects of the dinners at Fran's, and pointed out the poltical implications of Hilton's behavior. He has since written in comments here at Fuzzilicious:

...what happens on Friday nights at O'Briens is more than the sum of its parts. Some people get that, most, lacking the opportunity to see it in person, don't. When I think of O'Briens, I don't really think first of Hal or Marty. My thoughts go to [Vietnam veteran, double amputee, and volunteer peer counselor at Walter Reed] Jim Mayer, and how he birthed and raised to maturity the universe that Fuzzy describes. By urging the 2003 and 2004 seriously wounded to follow through on making it better for the next person in a bed on Ward 57 [the amputee ward at Walter Reed], Jim created an ethic for this generation of amputees and seriously wounded. With all due respect to Hal and Marty, the dynamic that Fuzzy observed at O'Briens is largely the residue of this incredible young generation of volunteer military and Jim Mayer's singular efforts in bringing the wisdom and experiences of his life to the task of bettering and motivating this generation in their recoveries.

To be fair to Hal and Marty, everything came together at O'Briens. Jim. Hal. Marty. The families releasing pent up hospital frustrations. Life on a grand scale. A place to enjoy and start thinking about the future. Young men and women readying themselves for their next chapters.

If there is a clear victory from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is in the work Jim did in creating the conditions for these young men and women to succeed in life on that same grand scale. One of the places it is on display now is Fran O'Briens. In the future, the entire country will see the results of his handiwork in the careers and contributions of these young men and women. If there is a Medal of Freedom to be awarded by this administration for true success in the advancement of freedom, it will rightfully be awarded to Jim Mayer

Therefore, when I heard that Hilton managers hung up on Jim when he called, I shook my head at their ignorance. Hanging up on Jim Mayer. You can't even put that on a truck scale to weigh the level of stupidity. It underscores that there is a wide gulf in America between those heroes (like Jim Mayer) who teach by example, and those individuals and organizations which fail to grasp why they would need to listen.
Closing Fran's (even if they manage to reopen in six months) and having the dinners at various locations is certainly better than nothing, but it will cripple (ironic word) the Fran O'Brien's community. Soldiers' Angels Germany has more (scroll down). We have spent a lot of time focusing on what a loss the end of Fran's will be to the wounded, but it will also be a tremendous loss to our country, as anything that "replaces" Friday Night at Fran's will not have as extensive an impact on those who participate. And we will be much the poorer for it.

So, what have you done to support and save this community that has comforted the broken, inspired recovery, and developed tomorrow's leaders? Andi has your orders, and Laughing Wolf sets an example (more contact info here). Don't forget to sign the petition. Only four more days to save this amazing community...

[Background on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]