Love you, LJ.
I cannot begin to reflect on this incredible, exciting, embarrassing, nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring, humbling, almost picture-perfect day without first expressing my deep appreciation to each one of our friends and family members who made the trip to be with us in New York for Veterans Day.
Dave and Kathy McCabe and their grandchildren, Colin and Claire. The Bates Group: Gary Watson, Pat and Rick Saylor, Brian and Marie Langdon, and my mom and stepfather, Linda and Paul Messer. My sister Laura Lorio (above) and her son, our nephew, Brendan. Tiffany and Chris Hodges (“Miss you!”). Kara and Jim Bean (“Uh, Jim, there’s a camera behind you.”). Mark and Nancy Decoteau. And of course, The Beautiful Heth.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
A Perfect 20, many of whom are seen here …
With the skies over New York City a deep and flawless blue, we were on the flight deck of the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid, at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum last Thursday, Veterans Day 2010 — intending to make the final 100 of the first half on our trip to 1 million made foul shots.
But before we got there, there was makeup to be applied. Yes, I’ll get to that.
A couple days prior, we had been asked to appear on the Veterans Day edition of “America’s Newsroom” with Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, on FOX News at 10:45 a.m. … Great news! Transportation included. The Beautiful Heth and I stayed with the Langdons in Monroe, Conn. the night before, and that’s where they picked us up at, get this, 7:15 a.m. (better safe than reasonable, I always say) so as to arrive at the News Corp. building at 48th Street, in time. In this case, “in time” means a little more than two hours early.
I’m pretending to be annoyed here. It’s called contrived drama. All the cool kids are doing it.
But seriously, we were there pretty darned early, which gave us plenty of time to become, let’s say, “presentable.” What that meant in my case was a thorough application of foundation, I believe we’re calling it, which really provided a glow not seen in our family since The Beautiful Heth was pregnant with Rosie. I dare say I was ravishing.
TBH and I then visited with a group of six women Cadets from West Point, who were making various appearances on FOX throughout the day and for a short time were there with us in the 12th floor green room (guess what …not green). We spoke to a few of them, particularly one first-year student named Erin (she’s to my left, your right, in the photo). Our first impression: The country is in good hands. They were confident, gracious, incredibly smart and looked us in the eye during every word of the conversations.
And there I was, worrying that my blush would smudge.
Eventually, it was time to join the show down the hall in the studio, an enormous set with less activity than I would have expected. Maybe four camera people, a producer, and Bill and Martha. I entered during a commercial break, naively expecting a hectic buzz. Turns out they’ve done this a few times. It was practically Epsom Public Library quiet.
I sat with Bill as the show came back and we watched a taped segment on Hoops For Heroes leading into the interview. He gave me a fist bump before saying with a laugh: “You’re wearing makeup? What’s with that?”
“In 30, Bill,” came a voice from near a camera.
“Where should I be looking?” I asked.
The voice: “The monitor during the intro, then Bill.”
“In five, Bill.”
And there we were.
The interview was brief. He asked about the idea generally, and then about the number of made shots it takes per day (1,370), and then our timetable for reaching 1 million (Veterans Day 2011), and then, “I hope your wife is patient,” to which I accurately responded, “She’s great.”
In what seemed like moments, it went over to Martha, and we were done.
Another fist bump with Bill, and we were out the studio door, which is when the e-mails started piling in. Twenty online donations by the time I had reached TBH at the other end of the hall. Forty by the time the elevator had gotten us to the ground floor. It would be about 150 by day’s end, along with many many more e-mails from folks who wanted to express their support, and to help.
I loved them all, but this one was my favorite:
My family is big into basketball (we’re Duke grads, our kids all knew the fight song and slap the floor for defense by age 3) so we think it’s extra cool. We’re also a military family and my husband (a Navy doctor) trained at Bethesda. We live on a small farm now about 40 minutes away from the new Intrepid center at Bethesda.
ANYWAY. I told my kids about what you’re doing, and they said “We can do that!” but then quickly decided that 1 million free throws — that went in — would take as many years, and I encouraged them to do a kid version of your mission. So … they are going to do the following, and raise money for Hoops for Heroes.
Emilia, age 10: will read 1,000 pages. She is a huge reader, and this will take her like a week. I’ll be upping the number on this multiple times.
Brendan, age 8: plays baseball for Little League and will pitch 1,000 pitches. Hopefully most of them will be strikes, but we’ll count anything with decent pitching form.
Colette, age 5: will draw 1,000 purple hearts. Because purple is her favorite color. 🙂
So there you have it, the Lawler Kids 3-Pointer Plan of “Pitches, Pages, and Purple Hearts.”
Now that … is awesome. Thanks to Emilia, Brendan and Colette. Can’t wait to hear how the fundraising goes.
So after FOX, TBH and I got a ride to the ship, about a 10-minute drive down 47th Street through a whole bunch of wicked tall buildings (You can’t take the New Hampshire out of the boy …), arriving there at around 11:30ish, just in time for our 2:45 date with a basketball hoop.
We ate at the restaurant on board (Au Bon Pan is EVERYWHERE!), and then headed to the flight deck to get a lay of the land. Over the next couple of hours, our friends started arriving, starting with the McCabes. Colin and Claire, the twins, and I had a nice rap about skiing Mount Sunapee, and then they climbed aboard for a close-up look at a Black Hawk helicopter on the deck. Then came Chris and Tiff and Jim and Kara, who had a whole lot to say about my clown-face (hadn’t wiped off the foundation yet), then the Decoteaus, then Laura and Brendan, and then the Bates group. We lined up the rebounding crew, which would include Veterans Paul Messer (Navy), Rick Saylor (Air Force) and Mark Decoteau (Navy).
Then the FOX crew arrived, and we started talking about timing … which we hoped would land us at the magic number of 100 for the day and 500,000 for the year at just after 3 p.m., in order to carry it live.
There was Matt Krause, the Intrepid Special Projects & Visual Design Manager, a terrific fellow who has been our contact at the Intrepid since we began. There was Luke Sacks, the Intrepid Public Relations Director. There was Dave Winters, the Executive Vice President of the Intrepid. There was Jody Fisher, Senior Vice President of Rubenstein Communications, which represents the museum. Great guys, every one.
We chatted, we did our best to stay warm (beautiful day, but a little chilly in the shade), and we watched an amazing re-enlistment ceremony for an Army soldier in the 800th Military Police Brigade who was re-upping, as he told his fellow soldiers, for “Three more years … Hooah!”
And then, finally, the appointed hour of 2:45 p.m. rolled around. Here’s what I shared before the shooting began:
I want to remind everyone that we are here at this particular site, on this particular date, in part to acknowledge the midway point in our journey to 1 million made foul shots, but far more importantly to be mindful of our broader purpose: to honor this country’s intrepid heroes — our Veterans and service men and women.
When we began this project one year ago today, I realized that this was not going to happen without a few things going right: a quick shooting pace and physical health, but most importantly the adoption of this cause by a community of people who also want to be part of a collective thank you to our men and women in uniform. The key word: Community.
That community has proven to be widespread, profound and inspiring.
So here we are on Veterans Day, which is of course a solemn occasion, one on which to quietly reflect and appreciate the incredible sacrifices of those who are serving and have served. But it’s also a day of celebration of those Veterans – a group of men and women who represent the very best in all that we can be as Americans. Their courage, their willingness to sacrifice on our behalf, so days like these are even possible, is inspirational.
With that solemn celebration in mind, I’d like to read an excerpt from a story in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine. It’s written by a former infantryman, Brian Mockenhaupt, who was embedded in Afghanistan with the second platoon of Charlie Company, 82nd Airborne, in 2009. The piece is called “The Last Patrol,” and for those of you who haven’t read it, it’s worth finding.
Mockenhaupt writes, As I stood with Capt. Ryan Christmas in Charlie’s command post, more grim news crackled from the radio. A bomb had ripped through a foot patrol, wounding two soldiers and killing one, Specialist Clayton McGarrah, who had been in Afghanistan eight days. He had set down his backpack on a hidden mine’s pressure plate. “Another tough day,” Christmas said, and pressed his fingers to his temples. “I can’t even see his face. That sounds terrible, but he just wasn’t here that long.” Christmas had done three other Afghanistan deployments and one to Iraq, but this had been the most trying. Every day since he had taken command of Charlie a month earlier, his men had been sniped at, ambushed, or blown up. “All our families and friends are home right now eating hamburgers and shooting fireworks,” he told me. “And that’s good. I’m happy for them. But they need to understand the price of that freedom.”
It occurred to me that scenes like that one are playing out every day, as we eat our hamburgers, as we shoot our fireworks, as we play our basketball, as we enjoy our families. That’s not to say, of course, that we should feel guilty for the enjoyment of those freedoms … but we must be mindful, as the captain said, of their price. Not just on Veterans Day, but every day.
Before we move on, I would like to give special recognition to Mark and Nancy Decoteau, who have joined us here today from Waterville Valley, NH. Their son Marc Decoteau is an American hero, an Army specialist killed in Afghanistan on January 29th of this year, and though I never knew him, his memory, as much as anything, serves as a daily inspiration. We met Mark and Nancy less than a month after Marc had died, and they couldn’t have been more gracious, courageous hosts. “Army Strong.” I promised Mark that day that this dogtag would be returned to him after 1 million made foul shots, and that’s a promise I fully intend to keep. Thank you for making the trip, Mark and Nancy.
And also, I want to be sure to recognize the contributions of the person who is my partner in all this – my wife, The Beautiful Heth. While both of us recognize that our parts in this project pale in comparison to the real sacrifices of those we are all honoring, I understand that this hasn’t always been easy on her, and I thank her – for myself, and on behalf of Noah, Mason and Rosie – for her continued faith in this project, and her partnership.
Next, as this is a fundraiser after all, I happily handed over a $10,000 check from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores to Mr. Winters.
And then, needing to make 100 foul shots to get to our midway point of 500,000, we got to shooting. With Rick and Paul under the hoop, and Mark to my right, making the transfers, it went something like this: CLANK. CLANK. And then, success.
I’m told it wasn’t all that bad, but the shooting sure didn’t seem good. On the other hand, Rick, Paul and Mark were there to make sure there was perpetual motion, and as I’ve said before … you throw enough up there, eventually they’re going to go in (Lifetime Achievement Award theory). This time, it took us about six minutes before the count-up hit 499,999 …
… and then 500,000.
Now, there’s the issue of my timing. Similarly to what happens when TBH is out for the evening and it’s required of me to get four meals to the table simultaneously, I didn’t get it quite right. FOX was able to cover a few of the shots live going into their 3 p.m. break, but the final one came right in the middle of those commercials, so it wasn’t captured in living color. But it happened, I promise.
We hugged and hugged and hugged (“Not so close … I’m SMUDGING!”), and that was that.
We then spoke briefly with an NPR reporter for an “Only a Game” update that ran Saturday, then worked with FOX for another few minutes on their coverage. And finally, it was officially decompression time.
Next, across the flight deck from where we had been shooting, came the main event — a beautiful Veterans Day ceremony, highlighted by VIP seating for dozens of Veterans, including a few from World War II. Wow.
It ended with those Veterans ceremoniously throwing a wreath overboard, and the playing of TAPS.
We rounded up our pals, hit the gift shop on behalf of Things 1, 2 & 3, and started the long walk east toward Grand Central Station.
From there, it was off to Bridgeport, back to the Langdons in Monroe, and finally home for The Beautiful Heth and me … at 12:30 a.m. on November 12.
We stayed up too long reflecting on the day, went upstairs to get ready for bed at around 2, and had one last order of business before settling in.
“Here you go, pretty boy.”
And she handed me a wet wipe.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.