The United States will not forget the servicemembers who have made incredible sacrifices on the nation's behalf, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the "A Salute to Our Troops" dinner sponsored by United Service Organizations and Microsoft earlier this month in New York.
"I promise you we will never, ever forget," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said told the 25 wounded warriors, their guests and corporate representatives. "You are our inspiration, and we care for you, and we will always care for you."
Nor, Mullen said, would the country forget the families who have stood beside the servicemembers.
"I give equal praise to the family members ... as well as those who sacrificed so much," he added. "You're very special people. You have given more than any of us really know."
Mullen had said earlier that as with many other events where he has the opportunity to interact with servicemembers, he would take away far more from the night than he would give.
Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington, echoed that sentiment.
"You all are so incredibly special," she told the wounded warriors during the dinner. "For us to share a day like today with you is the greatest gift that we have."
The wounded warriors -- on a weekend trip from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio -- will have some great experiences to take home, as well.
They arrived Nov. 7 and were warmly welcomed during a reception at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. Hosted by the USO in partnership with Microsoft, the troops were treated to one-on-one time with celebrities such as James Brown, host of CBS television's "The NFL Today," comedian Ben Bailey, actress Carmen Electra, and country music singer-songwriter Stephen Cochran, a former Marine who broke his back in six places when he was ambushed while serving in Afghanistan.
That however, was just the warm-up for the rest of the weekend.
Yesterday, the group began with a chilly, but cheery, boat tour that took them past many historical sites including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Ground Zero. Then it was off to Little Italy for lunch and a brief performance by the USO Liberty Belles.
Despite the threatening weather, the majority of the group elected to attend a scheduled ceremony at Ground Zero after lunch. It was brief and emotional for many, yet still a highlight, for many of the servicemembers.
"It was kind of emotional, because ... that's where it all started -- the wars," said Army Cpl. Taylor Harder. "I've been there before, but I've never actually got to see down inside."
Harder's right foot was shattered in January when a roadside bomb detonated during a route-clearing mission in Iraq. He's currently recovering at Walter Reed.
"This afternoon, being at Ground Zero, that's very emotional," said Army Spc. Catherine Neary. "It's something that I won't forget."
Neary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring while serving at Camp Victory, Iraq.
The experience of visiting the site where it all began may have been tough for the troops, but the evening was downright fun. With American tenor Roberto Iarussi singing the national anthem and a brief operatic selection and some heartfelt country tunes from Cochran, the evening ended on an "up" note.
Before heading for home, the servicemembers will attend a special performance tomorrow of the Radio City Music Hall's "Christmas Spectacular," featuring the Rockettes. They'll be part of an audience of 5,000 servicemembers and their families invited to the show as a larger piece of USO and Microsoft's "A Salute to Our Troops" weekend.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
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