I recently had the pleasure of delivering good news. It wont make it on CNN or Fox, and yet it has all the elements of a juicy news story: the military, the flag, loss, suffering, heroism, family. But it will make you feel good to be an American regardless of your stripes and that’s why you wont catch this story of the evening news. I’m the Chief Brand Officer for a company called TrueCar. We launched a program called DrivenToDrive, which is designed to get wounded veterans back behind the wheel. Losing the ability to drive is one of the great handicaps a severely wounded veteran has to grapple with when they get home.
By definition, the military tribe is self-reliant. Being dependent on others for basic things like driving to the store is a loss of independence. Regaining the ability to drive again for a wounded veteran represents so much more than just getting from point A to point B. It represents the freedom they fought so hard to defend. Driving again is a goal in a wounded veteran’s recovery program. So on Thursday of last week I was on a mission to tell our first veteran in the DrivenToDrive program, that we were giving him a van. I took a redeye to Augusta, Georgia to deliver the news.
It was wonderful to brighten the day of a man who so selflessly served his country, and maybe even impact his life for the better. When I knocked on the door he was at the house with his service dogs, Rory and X. His daughter was holding back another service dog that was in the early stages of training. After the news was delivered we had a few minutes to chat. Major Peter Way is an American hero. During a battle in Afghanistan where he served as a medic for the Army Special Ops, he took shrapnel to the leg. He didn’t want to leave his fellow soldiers who were in desperate need of medics, so he had them flush out his wound so he could get back to the fight. Which he did. Like the hero he is.
30 surgeries and many years of infection later, his injured leg was so painful and limiting to the physical activity that is so important to him, that he elected to have it amputated. When I met Peter at the door, he was standing tall. A powerful figure, as in shape as a professional athlete. As he took us to his garage to show us his bikes and athletic gear, there was no evidence that his prosthetic leg was any less effective than his real leg. Soon his wife arrived to share in the excitement of the news. She was running between schools and took a moment to stop by the house. She teaches adaptive sports in the local public school system. Their daughter, Laura, trains service dogs in her spare time. She attends Augusta U and was interviewing later that day for the dental school program. Their son is in the Air Force Academy.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in the presence of more than just one hero. I was in the presence of a family of heroes. Peter doesn’t hide the pain behind his broad shoulders and big smile. He talks openly about it. And credits his family for his recovery. During the worst of times it took a wife that insisted he come with them on a run, if even just to sit by the lake and get some fresh air. Little did Peter know he would be met at the lake by 12 fellow veterans holding a flag and pumped up on faith that Peter would see better times. His wife recalls that he needed a shot in the arm that day and within minutes 12 veterans showed up to give it to him. When Peter crashes on his bike now, his son knows how to patch him up and get him back on the trail. He and his daughter went on their first run together since his injury. Running was and is important time for them. When I asked her what made her most proud about her dad, the answer came easily. “I’m proud that he was willing to risk life and limb to fight for the freedom to have differences of opinion in America. That he fought for the freedom that allows a young woman like me to attend dental school and pursue my dreams.” I never asked their political affiliation and I have no idea what it is. It doesn’t matter. There is no fight there. There is no conflict or hostility in this story. Just the stuff that makes America beautiful.