Thanks to Tater for sending this story to me. I knew some of our wounded warriors from Walter Reed had made the trip to the Army-Navy Game here in Philly (because 92alpha and many of the other Philly cops and fireman had the honor of saluting them on their way in to the stadium), but I didn't know the story behind how they got there. I assumed it was Ollie North that brought them --he's been known to do that.
Actually it was Bennett and Vivian Levin (Bennett was former commissioner of L&I, Philly boy and self-made millionaire). They transported the guys on a first class train (their own) complete with gourmet meals, gifts from tons of stores and the invite to bring guests. The Marines denied the offer to bring guests so they could bring more Marines.
You should read the whole article, but here are some of the highlights. I'm not ashamed to say I choked up a bit...
"The Levins could think of no better passengers to reinstate the ceremonial ride than the wounded men and women recovering at Walter Reed in D.C. and Bethesda, in Maryland.
"We wanted to give them a first-class experience," says Bennett. "Gourmet meals on board, private transportation from the train to the stadium, perfect seats - real hero treatment."
Through the Army War College Foundation, of which he is a trustee, Bennett met with Walter Reed's commanding general, who loved the idea.
But Bennett had some ground rules first, all designed to keep the focus on the troops alone:
No press on the trip, lest the soldiers' day of pampering devolve into a media circus.
No politicians either, because, says Bennett, "I didn't want some idiot making this trip into a campaign photo op."
And no Pentagon suits on board, otherwise the soldiers would be too busy saluting superiors to relax.
The general agreed to the conditions, and Bennett realized he had a problem on his hands.
"I had to actually make this thing happen," he laughs.
Bennett's an emotional guy, so he was worried about how he'd react to meeting the 88 troops and guests at D.C.'s Union Station, where the trip originated. Some GIs were missing limbs. Others were wheelchair-bound or accompanied by medical personnel for the day.
"They made it easy to be with them," he says. "They were all smiles on the ride to Philly. Not an ounce of self-pity from any of them. They're so full of life and determination."
At the stadium, the troops reveled in the game, recalls Bennett. Not even Army's lopsided loss to Navy could deflate the group's rollicking mood.
Afterward, it was back to the train and yet another gourmet meal - heroes get hungry, says Levin - before returning to Walter Reed and Bethesda.
"The day was spectacular," says Levin. "It was all about these kids. It was awesome to be part of it."
The most poignant moment for the Levins was when 11 Marines hugged them goodbye, then sang them the Marine Hymn on the platform at Union Station.
"One of the guys was blind, but he said, 'I can't see you, but man, you must be f---ing beautiful!' " says Bennett. "I got a lump so big in my throat, I couldn't even answer him."
It's been three weeks, but the Levins and their guests are still feeling the day's love.
"My Christmas came early," says Levin, who is Jewish and who loves the Christmas season. "I can't describe the feeling in the air."
Maybe it was hope.
As one guest wrote in a thank-you note to Bennett and Vivian, "The fond memories generated last Saturday will sustain us all - whatever the future may bring."
God bless the Levins.
And bless the troops, every one." (Philly.com)