The Wounded Warriors
I have not had the honor of serving in the military myself, but many of my family members have, and it has always been important to me to show my support for all of those who serve our country regardless of how popular or unpopular the war might be. Last year, we did a show featuring 20-year-old Randy Gollinger, a veteran of the Iraq conflict who had lost a leg and an eye when his truck ran across an Improvised Explosive Device. He had been to a VA hospital, but had many medical issues yet unresolved. It seemed to me that the care provided by an over-worked, understaffed albeit well-meaning medical service had left him with an incomplete and “unfinished” feeling of being lost in life. Hope was fading.
I was deeply disturbed at what had happened to Randy. He seemed so defeated — utterly frustrated at what had happened to him and not sure where to turn. I believe American soldiers not only should be the best-equipped and best-trained soldiers in the world, but also should have the best support upon returning home. Even before the show, I asked my staff to start looking for resources to help Randy. Eventually, we hit on an organization called Iraq Star.
A former Air Force nurse named Maggie Lockridge created Iraq Star when she realized there were lots of wounded soldiers coming home and getting lost in the system. She began recruiting surgeons around the country who agreed to volunteer their time and their skills to help these veterans. When we contacted her about Randy, she set him up with Dr. Michael Groth of Beverly Hills, a specialist in ophthalmic surgery, who was delighted to help. He did two surgical procedures on Randy and fit him with a new prosthetic eye — completely for free.
I was dumbfounded by the impact of such an organization, and I told Maggie to just let me know what I could do to help her. She asked me to emcee their annual fundraiser, which took place last Saturday at the Universal Hilton in Los Angeles. The special guest of honor was actor Gary Sinise, who was honored for all he does for the USO and for Iraqi school kids. Jon Voight spoke, Dennis Miller did stand up, and the live auction featured an amazing, chrome-laden chopper motorcycle. The bike had a camouflage custom paint job and had been hand-built for the occasion by Paul Teutel and the crew of TLC’s American Chopper.
The real stars of the night, of course, were the wounded warriors who had been helped by Iraq Star. The overflow crowd gave one huge ovation after another as they were introduced. Among them was Tony, who had received an entire mouth reconstruction; Bobby, who had received skin grafting on 33 percent of his body; Marco, who had received two reconstructive surgeries after losing his left ear, left arm and left leg.
And then Randy was introduced. The change I noticed in him was remarkable. He was once again vibrant and so full of life — so focused on what he had left instead of what he had lost. At that moment, I realized Iraq Star had given this young man his life back. It was a moment that made me proud to be an American.
Because I wanted my viewers to share this experience with me, I had asked you to write in to me about why you wanted to be there. I was only able to pick 12 of you to sit at a special VIP table, but I want to say how grateful I am for all of your responses. I was so happy to meet you. You traveled to the event from all over Southern California, united by one thing — your appreciation for what soldiers sacrifice for us.
And this is an organization that I want us to continue to support. If you’re able, go here to contribute to Iraq Star. Even a small act of generosity will go a long way to helping those who put their lives on the line for us.