Palo Alto, Calif., is nestled in the Silicon Valley, home to hundreds of millionaires and a few dozen billionaires, 50 miles directly south of San Francisco.The broad leafy boulevards are shaded by mature oak trees, driven upon by socially conscious environmentalists who order from a popular Asian fusion menu at the Three Seasons, or gobble Izzy’s Brooklyn bagels while connected to their laptops like prisoners on a chain gang.
Many of Palo Alto’s 58,000 residents are either employed by Stanford University, called “The Farm” by locals, or attend school there.
Stanford is to the West Coast what Harvard is back East. Stanford hospital, a teaching facility, is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world.While Palo Alto presents a façade of wealth and power – there is a downscale population that very few in the Bay Area are terribly interested in showcasing, even though they live in gleaming, modern low rise buildings that are the envy of many urban planners.
THE VETERANS HOSPITAL OF PALO ALTO
On this breezy Saturday, there is still the smell of smoke from the fires blazing across Northern California, while dozens of Harley’s, Ducoti’s and other motorcycles decorated with American flags and veteran decals sit in silent vigil in front of the hospital entrance.
I walked by these fine bikes, as my boots clattered on the cool tile inside building #7. My arms were filled with T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Our Troops, Our Heroes.”
I struggled to find my bearings inside the Poly Trauma Unit until a leather-clad biker grabbed my load, leading me to an outside patio where hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausage were grilling in the mid-morning sunshine.
I shook hands with Steve Stansberry, one of the organizers for this barbecue to thank the most seriously wounded of our troops, many of whom were airlifted from Iraq and Afghanistan by the C-17 flying hospital that operates out of Travis Air Force Base, some 75 miles to the north and east of San Francisco in Fairfield.
Steve, towering over me at 6’5”, is a former carpenter and decorated Vietnam Vet. He is regional coordinator for the Patriot Guard Riders (motorcyclists who turn out in all 50 states to support the families of fallen soldiers with an escort to the cemetery where their loved ones will rest).
Steve introduced me to Renee Magana, the Family Care Coordinator and Community Liason for the Veterans Hospital. It was Renee who, in turn, introduced me to some of the finest residents of Palo Alto, the ones who have achieved much and sacrificed more and they don’t have a million bucks to show for it.
Our countrymen are now so damaged they cannot breathe without a hole in their throat. The muscles in their hands are so constricted they cannot hold a spoon. Seeing the severity of the injuries from IED’s detonated by the pure evil of radical Islamists against our troops, leaves me stunned and slightly dizzy.Inside the unit, there are 12 military men and women, down from 16 earlier in the year. After whispering the thanks of a grateful nation, blessing these young people and saying a prayer for them, I gently touched their mangled bodies, many times both of us crying.
Some of these soldiers have no one to visit them. Some have family who travel thousands of miles to be with them. Some will eventually leave and go to another level of care inside a different building at the VA hospital, encouraged by the successful rehabilitation of fellow troops. Many will even live together in apartments around the hospital as they transition back to independent living.There is a hand-made quilt on the walls of the Poly Trauma unit made by the soldiers who get to move on after receiving some of the finest treatment that our government makes possible. It is for the left-behinds, stitched with love and humor. “Things will get better” reads one square. “Got your Back” reads another. And “Chicas like the metal experience” with a drawing of a prosthetic leg. As I said my final good-bye and God Bless You's to the survivors inside this amazing facility, Cpl. Corey Thompson of McComb, Mississippi, looked up at me and slowly spoke. “There is no need to say God Bless you over and over,” Thompson said. “ He already did.”
I wish the ‘other’ Palo Alto could see these fine people. I hope that someday, the students of Stanford and their liberal professors, as well as the Silicon Valley wealthy, will put their lives on pause and come out to honor Cpl. Thompson, and the people who are supporting them.Maybe they can take inspiration from Soldiers Angels, Patriot Guard Riders, Blue Star Moms, the Gold Star family members and other organizations who brought a picnic lunch and a huge helping of love.
These troops are my heroes, and I'll say it again. God Bless each and every one of you.