01 May, 2006

Saying Goodbye

Today I found several articles about the closing of Fran O'Brien's and the final dinner for the wounded last Friday night. American Forces Press Service has an excellent matter-of-fact article that offers insight into the people associated with the dinners:

Some troops have been coming to steak night since it began in October 2003. "We call them seniors," said [owner Hal] Koster, a Vietnam veteran. "They're mentors to the newly injured; they have a job other than just drinking all my beer."
Lisa Hoffman, who has written about Fran's before, has another article that will touch your heart. And probably make you angry, too....
Friday evening, during the last meal for the troops at Fran's, anger mixed with sadness. Several patrons wore T-shirts protesting that "Hilton Dishonors Veterans." Army Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, 35, whose left arm was nearly destroyed by a 2004 mortar blast in Iraq, credited Koster, O'Brien, the volunteers and the dinners with helping him put his life back together.

Fran's "means the world to us soldiers," Bain said. "Shame on Hilton."

Not all was gloomy that night. Pfc. Marissa Strock, who lost both legs after a Thanksgiving Day explosion under her Humvee in Iraq, offered an act of both gratitude and triumph.

Struggling to stand on her prosthetic limbs, Strock, 20, walked unassisted into the arms of Jim Mayer, a Vietnam War double amputee whom Koster credits with coming up with the idea of the dinners. Then, dinner done, Strock walked alone up the 20 steps to the street.

"It was the biggest gift she could give," Mayer said. "Priceless."
Read it all. Then donate here to help these dinners continue (they have some great pictures, too).