Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston Strong – Army Strong: Some Additional Thoughts on the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings

This picture has become one of many iconic images that show the devastation and the courage that were in evidence in the moments just after the twin explosions ripped through the heart of Boylston Street just yards from the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon.  When  I first looked at this photo, I knew right away that the two men giving aid to the fallen victim had to be among those representing Team Red, White & Blue at the Marathon.
 Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

I have been aware of Team RWB’s mission and its effectiveness from its inception, being familiar with several of the key founders and leaders, including Mike Erwin and James McBride.  It was only a few days after the Boston Marathon that I learned that one of the soldiers pictured above is a friend of mine.  Not only did he not allow his name to be given to the press, he was even quiet about his heroism among his circle of friends.  I will honor his desire to remain anonymous, but I will presume to speak about the kind of heroism that he reluctantly represents. 
My soldier friend had volunteered to be one of a relay team of runners to aid a blind athlete in completing the full Marathon course.  The soldier and the runner he was accompanying were near the Finish Line between the two bomb sites when the explosions occurred just seconds apart. 
Having served in combat, this active duty Army officer had come to the Boston area for graduate studies.  As some who had experienced several deployments in war zones, he fully expected that life for him and his family in Boston would be more normal and peaceful.   Yet when a war zone erupted around him on the race course, he immediately switched back into combat mode, diving into the carnage and offering first aid and triage.  He was one of many heroes who put aside thoughts for their own safety to come to the aid of the fallen.
Here is how the Boston Athletic Association, the Boston Marathon’s parent organization, described the situation in a press release:
“Others were as reluctant to step into the spotlight. One is simply being referred to as ‘the man who gave the shirt off his back.’
An active-duty service member, he was at the finish line as the bombs exploded Monday. He was photographed wrapping the red shirt he wore during the Boston Marathon around the bloody leg of a woman at the blast site. He does not want to be recognized. He wants only prayers for the victims.
‘That’s him: ‘This is not about me. Focus on what’s important.’ That’s just who he is,’ said Larry Olson, spokesman for Team Red, White & Blue, a veterans advocacy group who had 17 participants in the marathon, including the man who offered his shirt to stop the woman’s bleeding.”
Several days after the Marathon, my friend and another Army veteran planned to attend a Red Sox game, and asked me to join them.  They were several innings late in arriving at Fenway Park, which I thought strange, because these warriors are usually quite punctual.  I learned that on the way to Fenway, my friend had received a text from one of the victims he had helped at the site of the bombings.  This person was in his hospital room with several family members who were visiting.  They had done some research and had discovered who it was that had helped him.  The patient asked my friend to come to his bedside so he could thank him and introduce him to the family.  Pretty good excuse for missing a few innings of baseball.  
Boston Strong – Army Strong!
My friend is one of the many nameless heroes – first responders, police, firemen, EMTs, doctors, nurses, soldiers, Marathon volunteers, runners and civilians  - who saw a need and responded quickly and selflessly.  We are blessed to call them our neighbors.

Boylston Street recently re-opened.  Yesterday I made the trip from Arlington St. up to Massachusetts Avenue, pausing to visit the Memorial that has been set up in Copley Plaza.  I also stopped in front of the two bombing sites.  Hundreds of people were strolling, taking pictures, dining and drinking in the many fine establishments that line Boylston.  The City is inching back to a more normal pace of life.  
Boston Strong! 
We rightfully take pride in our city’s resilience.  As we do so, let’s continue to remember to be thankful to those who served on Patriots’ Day, and who continue to serve.  And let’s continue to be more patient, courteous, kind, thoughtful and present with one another – to friends, family and strangers alike.  Being strong can sometimes mean being gentle!
God bless.

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