WASHINGTON - Americans have heard much about coffins returning from Iraq without media coverage; they've heard about military funerals unattended by the commander in chief; they've also heard endlessly about a certain military mother who lost a son in Iraq.
What they don't hear much about are the quiet events and private meetings that often take place in the Oval Office between President George W. Bush and military families. Or the Friday-night steak dinners local restaurateurs throw for wounded vets from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
I stumbled upon one of the dinners last Friday night as I was heading to meet a longtime e-mail buddy, Russ Clark of Columbus, Ohio, a Vietnam Marine vet and minister with Point Man International Ministries of Central Ohio. Clark works with other vets as they try to adjust to civilian life. Some are recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan; others are still trickling in from Vietnam.
War takes some time getting over, Clark will tell you.
The short story is that Clark and I missed each other, to our mutual regret. Instead, I happened upon a large dining room filled with about 125 people, including many wounded soldiers in wheelchairs or on crutches. I also noticed a couple of suits by the door wearing wires.
I introduced myself and asked who in the room required security. They weren't in the mood to say, apparently, but suggested that I'd probably be able to figure it out. In a room full of camouflage and amputees, it was easy to spot a man in a dark suit casually grasping a Corona neck. I wandered over to the group surrounding him and listened as Isaac Serna, a 21-year-old Humvee gunner, described how he had been wounded.
The man in business attire was Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy defense secretary and now head of the World Bank. Wolfowitz listened intently, asked a few questions, then joined Serna and others for a group photo. And so the evening went, with the former deputy quietly making the rounds - listening and shaking hands - and lingering for a while after the wounded were headed back to Walter Reed.
In fact, I learned, you can find Wolfowitz here most Friday nights - at least twice a month - meeting with the wounded and hearing their stories. No fanfare or fuss, which is why many outside of Washington don't know about it.