Thursday, January 30, 2014

SOTU 2014: The hero in the hall

BIPARTISANSHIP — the real thing — is a rare commodity in Washington, and something to celebrate when it happens. It happened, for a few brief shining moments, on Tuesday night.

President Obama made his fifth State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday night. In an address that got generally high marks as a relatively genial call to action, the president was applauded 80-odd times at various points. At one point, though, the president of the United States became merely the supporting lead, the reflector of prolonged applause.

For nearly two galvanizing, wonderfully nationalistic minutes, the star of the show, Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, was in the balcony.

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Let the commander-in-chief tell it:

“I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program — a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

“A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

“For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he's endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

“Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he's learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he's working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.”

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WHAT FOLLOWED was the kind of tribute the State of the Union was built for, and a truly moving experience. From everyone in the House Chamber there came cheers, tears, whoops and sustained, unbridled applause — not the perfunctory wave of claps reserved for dignitaries and visiting strangers, but nearly two minutes (Rachel says it was 1 minute and 44 seconds) of appreciation for one who’s borne the battle. Regardless of who he voted for.

Remsburg, who attended the SOTU as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama, sat beside his proud father in the balcony, and offered the crowd a thumbs-up — gung ho even now. reports that the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart lives in Phoenix, and confronts the grueling ritual of six hours of occupational, physical and speech therapy, every day.

The echo of his appearance gives us another reason for our own, more muted, private applause: The thunderous ovation Cory Remsburg received on Tuesday should be the last such State of the Union salute for American soldiers before the war they are fighting comes to an end, by the end of this year.

Image credit: Cory Remsburg: Associated Press. Remsburg and Obama: Pete Souza/The White House.

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