Lee Woodruff’s Personal Memorial Day Reflection
I could sense the woman behind me, waiting respectfully for my conversation to end. “I hear your foundation helps couples with fertility issues,” she said softly, her eyes flicking around as she searched for her husband. He was rolling up in his wheel chair, the pant legs of his Marine Corps uniform tucked neatly under his amputated limbs. “We’ve been trying for a while now and our savings are gone.” Her expression was a mix of sorrow, shame, and hope. I fought the urge to fold her into my arms for a hug.
Fourteen years ago, if you’d told me I would volunteer my time raising funds for injured military veterans and their families, I would have looked at you cross-eyed. But sometimes your cause finds you.
When my journalist husband, Bob Woodruff, was wounded in 2006 by a roadside bomb while reporting in Iraq, our lives changed in an instant. His recovery was nothing short of amazing. And on our journey to heal, in military hospitals and on bases, in towns across America, we met incredible families. None of them considered themselves heroes. They were people who’d simply been injured on the job, focused on healing and eager to transition back to the home front and get back to work.
Our experience, and the inordinate amount of attention our family received inspired us to create the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) and raise funds to help fill in needs and services after a veteran has exhausted what our government provides. One of the issues I became passionate about was something I discovered at a BWF convening, where we brought together couples and medical experts to share information about the issue of intimacy and infertility after injury. Our laws hadn’t caught up to the reality of battlefield injuries and medical science. While the Department of Defense covered infertility costs for active duty service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs has only recently begun to provide infertility service to veterans — and only to a limited population.
BWF created a fund to help these families and couples as they began the expensive, grueling and sometimes heartbreaking journey of treatments and medications. We connected with pharmaceutical companies who donated medications and infertility clinics across the country who offered discounted or free services through the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology’s “Service to Veterans” program. To date, four babies have been born through our Veterans In-Vitro Initiative (VIVA.) It’s one small way Americans come together to provide for those who have raised their hands to go into harm’s way and who have sacrificed so much.
As we approach this Memorial Day, eager for a three-day weekend or the BBQ with friends, let us remember the 1% of our population who served and may have returned from the wars changed, bearing physical and invisible scars they will carry for the rest of their lives.
And while this holiday may traditionally be a time to honor the fallen, let us also pause to honor those who served and have returned. Let’s include in our prayers those, who at this very moment, are wearing the uniform in some other corner of the world. Perhaps they are in an Afghanistan outpost, crouched in a tank, or asleep on a military base far from home. They have chosen to serve their country so that the rest of us can go about our daily lives.
There are so many ways to support military families and every single one of those actions is important. But this Monday, I urge you to take a moment to pause, to remind your own family about our veteran’s sacrifices. As we fire up the grill or set the table for friends and family, let’s honor all who have answered the call throughout the generations to protect this vast, generous and perfectly imperfect nation we call home.
Lee Woodruff is an author and speaker who runs her own Media/Speaker Training business. She is the co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a non-profit which raises money to help injured veterans and their families as they transition back to the homefront. To date, they have given away more than $70 million.” Visit her at http://www.LeeWoodruff.com.
This essay was featured in the May 26th edition of Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper newsletter. The Sunday Paper is the paper of record for individuals who want to be Architects of Change, lead meaningful lives and Move Humanity Forward. To get inspiring and informative content like this essay delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.