While the military is still reeling and recovering from the massacre at Fort Hood, my wife, Gena, and I decided to boost the morale of military personnel by visiting the cadets at West Point and the wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. Little did I know that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter at Ft. Hood, was hospitalized there.
The day before Veterans Day, we visited West Point. We were amazed by its pristine and picturesque setting, 50 miles north of New York on the Hudson River. It was also fascinating to learn more about the academy’s history. From the day of its founding on March 16, 1802, West Point has produced some of our country’s greatest leaders, including Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Schwarzkopf and Petraeus, etc.
Chuck Norris at West Point
It was inspiring to watch the cadets’ unyielding commitment to develop their mind, body and spirit. It was also a joy to see this international Corps of Cadets take a little time even to have fun with my tough-guy image and reputation. For example, one of the senior cadets named Taylor had a picture of me in a frame but with his name inscribed underneath it. Another French cadet, with a very heavy accent, spoke on behalf of other French comrades, and read aloud the Chuck Norris fact, “When an episode of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ was aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris, just to be on the safe side.” He then followed it up by stating, “We’ll surrender if you take a photo with me and my fellow French cadets!” Of course, I obliged.
Chuck and Gena Norris at West Point
There are few words to express the awe and inspiration Gena and I felt as we spent the day with the cadets at West Point. As I sat speaking to a large group of them for about 45 minutes, I was taken aback by their resoluteness and willingness to grow. Guided by the academy’s timeless motto of “Duty, Honor, Country,” their passion, discipline and fortitude for building the next generation of leaders was vividly clear and renews my hope for America’s future.
We were equally inspired a couple days later when we went out to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston to visit with America’s wounded warriors. How can one put into words the pride one feels around these brave men and women? Despite the loss of limbs or suffering from some other sacrifice in battle, their resolve and class was off the charts. While they were enthusiastic and grateful about our visit, it was my wife and I who were truly blessed and inspired by them.
Then came a moment that would have been completely surreal if it were not a staggering reality. As we were visiting the burn unit, we discovered that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood who murdered 13 and wounded another 40, was being treated in the same facility. To be honest, it made me sick to my stomach and sent shivers of disgust down my spine.
If ever I have experienced a polar opposite, it was in that moment as I was thinking about how Hasan was the sheer antithesis to the character, commitment and service of all the other men and women we met at West Point and Fort Sam Houston. I was equally moved by the civil servants and military medical staff, many of whom knew victims of this assassin, yet turned immediately around and became his caregivers. They are exemplary models of the patriot and Founding Father Thomas Paine, who said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will [eventually] reach himself.”
Two years earlier, we visited Brooke Army Medical Center and recalled meeting a young soldier by the name of David who had been just flown in from Iraq and was in ICU suffering from burns that covered more than 90 percent of his body. Now, two years later, David came walking down the hospital corridor to greet us. We were overjoyed to see him again, and we could tell that he felt the same of us, though his gravely burned head and face was not able to muster even a smile. We again shared some choice, heartfelt moments with David. I couldn’t help but say to him, “David, you are absolutely one of the toughest soldiers I have ever met.” Even then, he tried to smile as he quipped, “Tougher than Chuck Norris?” “Yes,” I replied. “You’re much, much tougher than me!”
It’s in times like these that I’m also grateful for military chaplains and the work of men like retired Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, who was burned over 60 percent of his body when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 collided into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. After more than 30 surgeries, Lt. Col. Birdwell now uses his life to bring hope to others. His story is also told on Pages 42 through 43 in my friend Randy Alcorn’s latest best-seller and help for those struggling through pain and difficulty, “If God is Good,” a copy of which I will be sending to David along with Lt. Col. Birdwell’s book “Refined by the Fire.” My hope is that Lt. Col. Birdwell might also drop by to visit David when his very busy speaking schedule takes him again by Fort Sam Houston.
The night before we left for Brooke Army Medical Center, and on their own initiative, our 8-year-old twins drew a picture and wrote an encouraging letter that they asked us to give to a wounded warrior. My wife, Gena, gave my daughter’s letter to David. He reached out and received it with his two wrapped and handless arms, paused and then opened and read the letter (in my daughter’s own writing and phonetic spelling, I might add):
I am very sorry you are hurt, but thank you for helping our contry. I’m going into military school just like you guys did. I hope you guys get better.
Your friend, Danilee
As the Scripture says, “From the mouths of children and infants, you have created perfect praise.”