WASHINGTON – Eight
times a year, a quiet side corridor at the Pentagon
becomes a noisy passageway of healing for wounded warriors
on their long journey to recovery.
On a recent Friday, it took only minutes for Corridor 3
to fill with hundreds of soldiers and civilians. They
mustered along both sides of the hallway, forming a
veritable gantlet of camouflage and business attire.
Idle conversation gave way to full attention on the far
end of the hall. Then the crowd began clapping – a slow,
steady cadence. It was muted at first but grew in volume,
power and speed. The U.S. Army Band Brass Quintet, tucked
into an alcove shared with vending machines, kicked into a
medley of “Stars and Stripes Forever, “God Bless America”
and “Grand Old Flag.”
A procession began moving down the hall – a parade of
men and women, some in uniform and some wearing jeans,
many in wheelchairs, many missing legs or arms or fitted
with prostheses or bearing the scars of explosions, others
walking with canes, some able to proceed unassisted.
Welcome to what's known as the Pentagon's “Wounded
The Army started the tour several years ago to
recognize wounded soldiers, without any expectation that
it would become a regular event, said Maj. Anne Edgecomb,
an Army spokeswoman. “Originally, this was a small thing,”
she said. It soon became clear that it had the power to
It has become one of the most popular events in the
building, judging from the number of Defense Department
employees who pack the corridor for the welcome when it is
held the second Friday of the month, eight times a year.
Yet for those outside the Pentagon, it is one of the
best-kept secrets, largely because media coverage of the
event is generally forbidden.
The most recent procession included about 35 service
members from Walter Reed Army Medical Center who have been
hospitalized after service in Iraq or Afghanistan. They
were mostly soldiers in this Army-sponsored event, but
Marines and sailors also attended.
A woman in a wheelchair led the procession. She was
followed by a man in a wheelchair wearing a T-shirt
celebrating the “dogface soldiers” of the Army's 3rd
“Thank you,” said another man, who has lost a leg. His
wheelchair was pushed by a small group of family members.
The next soldier had a sheepish smile on his
boyish-looking face. He, too, was missing a leg.
Another man in a wheelchair was accompanied by a little
girl in a stroller, presumably his daughter. She waved an
They proceeded through a sea of applause and admiration
– some reacting with wonder, or appreciation or a smile,
while others bore little expression as they shook hands,
expressing their gratitude or simply acknowledging the
“It makes you proud, but at the same time it tears the
heart right out of your chest,” said Stanley Freeman, as
the wounded warriors continued on for a VIP tour of the
Pentagon and a private lunch with generals in the
executive dining room.
Freeman, a Vietnam War veteran who works as a civilian
logistics director for the Marine Corps, said he makes it
a point to come to the event whenever he can. He has
attended almost a dozen of these welcomes.
“It's emotional; it's very touching,” he said. “You can
see how tough they are.”
“They hold their pride,” added Connie King, another
civilian Marine Corps employee. A former Marine herself,
she observed that the considerable number of wounded women
in the procession shows that this is a “different kind of
war” from past conflicts. “They have a long journey, and
we just want to make sure they're not forgotten,” she
Sgt. Maj. Dennis Edelbrock, the noncommissioned officer
in charge of the Army's brass quintet, has been playing
for the tour since the first time it was held.
Early on, he said, there was debate about whether it
should become a permanent fixture.
“I said: 'Hey, this is a no-brainer. This is where we
need to be. Nothing we do could be more important,' ”
Edelbrock recalled. He said the experience of playing for
the wounded warriors continues to be moving.
“They're guys who've done what other people talk about
doing,” he said. “These guys have done it and they've paid
a price for it. It's going to affect them the rest of
their lives.” Yet, he added, “so many of them are very
positive about it.”
Saul Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and professor
at the University of California San Francisco, who has
testified on military health issues before Congress,
believes that events such as the wounded-warrior tour have
a significant, positive impact on recovering service
Recent research conducted on troops returning from war
shows that “social support” is one of the most important
factors in recovery, Rosenberg said.
“And even a stranger from the military who really
understands what your sacrifice is about – and hearing all
that applause and seeing all those people who got up from
their desks and came out – it's healing,” he said. “It's
mentally healing. I don't care if it's (just) 15 minutes.”
Though the Army says it generally prohibits media
coverage of the event at participants' request, it allowed
part of the most recent tour to be observed.
Edgecomb, the Army spokeswoman, said the wounded
personnel have “always expressed that they just want it to
be . . . invisible” to the media.
No interviews with any of the wounded warriors or
photographs of the event were allowed.
Not surprisingly, each tour requires many hours of
preparation, and a different agency volunteers to help out
On this day, it was the Army Office of the Assistant
Chief of Staff of Installation Management that provided
more than 60 ushers and escorts for the event, including
Terry Dingus, an Army veteran who is now a civilian
employee at the office.
Dingus said the group also raised several thousand
dollars through car washes and bake sales to pay for gift
packages for the patients, which he said contained phone
calling cards, movie tickets and other items.
“These kids are doing a lot,” Dingus said. “I admire
the heck out of them for what they do.”