credit: Marcos Rivera Photography

Because They Stood Up For Me

Life is funny sometimes, isn’t it? Like when we are so focused on ourselves, when our myopic version of the world takes over and all we can see is our lives, we meet someone like Jeff Landay. I’ll tell you more about him in a moment.

So I was running around all morning yesterday trying to find something to wear for my first red carpet appearance in quite some time. I used to have a fancy stylist as my sartorial guide for things like this. But that was years ago; now I’m someone who’s much more comfortable in jeans and minimal make-up. Fancy stylist?  Well, you’re lookin’ at her.

I was headed to the 4th annual, Stand–Up for Heroes event, which, in conjunction with the Bob Woodruff Foundation seeks to raise money and attention to the plight of wounded warriors.

I had settled on a pretty safe and frilly dress, decided to rough it up a bit with a leather jacket, booties and scarf.

And so there I was, on the red carpet, my Spanx keeping my fat from rebelling underneath the cute frilly red dress, taking pictures and chatting away, when I backed right into Jeff Landay.

Turns out Jeff and I grew up in the same part of Northern California several years apart as I was certainly old enough to be is mother or, at the very least, his older sister. A gregarious guy who looked like he’d be more comfortable on the battlefield than the rigors of the red carpet, Jeff cut a handsome figure in his uniform, a chest full of medals, including the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded or killed in battle. After some routine small talk, he pulled out his iPhone and showed me a photo that literally took more than a minute for me to process.

See Jeff had half his head blown off after the vehicle he was driving was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while in Iraq in 2006. He spent more than a month in a coma and quite frankly, doctors didn’t think he was going to make it. But he did and now four years later, was standing next to me on the red carpet.

Jeff was just one of the brave men and women there to be recognized at last night’s festivities kicked off by Bob and Lee Woodruff. With her sense of humor, and his straight man act, they really reminded me of a modern-day Lucy and Ricky. They bandied back and forth and for a minute we all got a glimpse of what the inside of their home must be like.  The Woodruff’s started this foundation after Bob suffered his own Traumatic Brain Injury while covering the war for ABC news. The entire evening was moving, but there were two distinct times I cried uncontrollably. The first was during a video where the families of TBI service men and women talked about how their loved one came back from war and was “different” or that they had to find a different way to relate to them. Children talked about their anger, wives talked about changes in routine. But when Bob asked the men and women present to stand so they could be recognized, if they were able, well, that’s when the light went on inside me.

You see, in that moment, in that very instant, I understood the sacrifice. In all the years of reporting and reading about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, my heart always went out to those who had died and their families. But the toll on the living is immense. When Bob said, “stand if you’re able” I got it; I really got it. Me, the child of two military parents, understood in an intimate way, that these men and women went to serve and came home forever changed.  Since September of 2001, nearly two million people have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In that time, 320,000 have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury and another 300,000 have psychological wounds. Wow.

The evening ran the gamut of emotion because just as the tears began to overtake me, host Jon Stewart lightened the mood. Performances by Jerry Seinfeld and the age-defying Bruce Springsteen rounded out the night. (BTW, Bruce auctioned of his personal guitar that sold for 140,000 bucks! No, not to me!)

credit: Marcos Rivera Photography

credit: Marcos Rivera Photography

But honestly, the real stars were the soldiers and sailors. I took the time to thanks Jeff last night and will do it again here in this space. Jeff, I wish you Godspeed in your recovery and for you, your fellow servicemen and women, killed or injured while protecting us, I have two simple words. Thank you.

Now if you will allow me, one order of business. Men and women like Jeff Landay require so much when they come home in the form of therapy and care. That’s what the Bob Woodruff Foundation is raising money for. Last night they raised two and a half million dollars! Isn’t that great? But I hate to say so much more is needed. You can help and get some cool stuff in the process. Check out their online auction and make a bid. Want to come to New York and visit the set of Saturday Night Live? Want to meet the zany Stephen Colbert? You know THAT will be a blast. How about a visit to The View? There’s all that and so much more! So make a donation, get something cool and help someone in the process.

After all, they’ve done an awful lot for you!