Blog Family The Bob Woodruff Foundation Veterans

A Letter to My Husband on Your Alive Day

lee woodruff, bob woodruff, bob woodruff foundation

Photo by Shana Novak Photography

January 29, 2016

Dear Bob,

Ten years.  That’s how long it’s been since anyone has touched these boots.  Ten years since they made their way back to me from the military ER in Iraq. They were stuffed in a clear plastic bag, along with your dented helmet, watch and wallet, caked with dried blood.

At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to look at them. They were a cruel reminder of how our lives had changed, in an instant, with one roadside bomb.

During the past decade, these boots have been largely forgotten. Once or twice, I’ve almost thrown them out, eager to put the early days of your coma and grueling recovery behind us.  Rediscovering the bag, while sorting the garage this fall, it suddenly struck me that the tenth anniversary of your Alive Day loomed.  It’s the day you should have died, but instead came back to us.

My breath caught in my throat as I lifted the boots out to examine for the first time. They were still covered with Iraqi sand. There is a smudge of your blood on the right toe. I tried not to envision the moment when they frantically cut the laces in the process of saving your life. You were a journalist covering the war, not a soldier.  Yet they treated you like one of their own. Those military medics, nurses and doctors are my heroes. Always will be.

This photograph of your boots is my gift to you today, January 29th.  Happy Alive Day. With the passage of time, this image is now powerful in a terrible and beautiful way. It reminds me that a decade later, like so many military families in this country, we are all still standing. We have survived … and then some.

As your wife, I am immensely proud of how you’ve taken our family’s tragedy and turned your journalist’s lens on the veterans’ stories. But you went beyond that.  You used your experience to start a foundation to help injured service members and their families who were not getting the care and assistance they deserve from our country. “A hand up,” you always say, “not a hand out.”

It’s been a brittle week. I’ve broken into tears more times than I can count. I snapped back at a grumpy lady on the YMCA treadmill (yes, me!).  I am frayed and fragile, convinced that the body remembers trauma. It holds on to anniversaries with a cellular memory.

There is rarely a day that I don’t think about what happened. I imagine most military families and trauma survivors would say the same.  They, too, might sacrifice a limb to take it all back, to erase the bad thing for the one they love.

Watching the way you have driven your recovery, your lack of self-pity and the absence of a “why me?” is humbling. There are times I have made you painfully aware that, once again, I have pushed aside my own writing projects to tackle something for the foundation. I’m sorry for those moments I’ve made you feel guilty about how your injury affected my life. All of our lives. I want you to know that aside from raising our four children, our advocacy work in the veteran arena will be the most important thing I will ever accomplish.

And I hope you know how proud our children are of you. They may giggle when you stumble over a word or tease you when don’t hear the joke (you always had selective hearing, by the way) but they are filled with admiration. Even if you don’t always see it.

Do things always happen for a reason?  People use that phrase all the time, but I don’t believe so.  No good father and husband, no son or daughter deserves this.  Ever.  It was an act of war.  And it makes me in awe of those who raise their hands to go into areas of conflict when their country asks.

None of us can prevent the bad things from happening.  That’s simply part of the rhythm of life.  But the key is in how we respond… whether you choose to get bitter or get better. And it is a choice. So I want to thank you, ten years out from the worst day of our lives, for taking something awful and building something to do good.

Thank you for teaching this Type A multi-tasking wife patience, for reminding us of the gift of being present and the importance of telling everyone you love that you love them when you walk out the door. Because you never know.

There is so much more work to be done on behalf of our nation’s veterans.  So lets lace up those boots and get back to it. And when you come home from reporting in Asia next week, this picture will be waiting for you, framed and ready to be hung. Let’s choose a spot where it can remind us how lucky we are, not only to have survived the dings and dents so far, but to have found one another.

I love you.

Lee

Note: My friend Shana Novak shot this beautiful photo. Find out more about her heirloom work here.

17 Comments

  1. Ashley Folsom

    January 29, 2016 at 10:01 am

    This is simply beautiful….both the picture and the words. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself, both you and Bob.

  2. Judy collins

    January 29, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Ok, now you made me cry. Very touching tribute to the strength you both had.

  3. Beth Kephart

    January 29, 2016 at 10:26 am

    This is extraordinary. so are you. Thank you.

  4. Hallie Sawyer

    January 29, 2016 at 11:14 am

    i love this. I remember when this happened and followed along with his recovery which was nothing short of miraculous. it just shows what the love and support of a family can do and so as a daughter of a veteran, thank you for giving back to this very special sector of our society. i’ve dealt with the VA and it’s a very broken system. you are doing amazing work and thank you for caring for those who desperately need it. xo

  5. Kim forester

    January 29, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Celebrating you today, Bob, with best wishes and appreciation for being such a shining light throughout your life and career. You and lee show us all what courage, honesty, hard work, devotion, dedication , humor and down to earth authenticity look like. Thank you , so very much, for your refreshing and intelligent realness and for The goodness you bring into the world. Here’s to many more anniversaries of your alive day ~ with gratitude and warmest regards.

  6. denise

    January 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    thank you for sharing such a heart felt letter. the dings and dents of life are hard but you are so right still having one another regardless of our short comings is what will always matter in the end. god bless you and your family.
    D

  7. Sharon

    January 29, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Touching, humbling, Inspirational!! Thank you.

  8. JJ Shaughnessy

    January 29, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Hey Lee this is your Colgate Classmate, Shag! saw a link to this on A Colgate Facebook Page.

    Thanks tO You and Bob for your STEADY commitment to advocacy for Vets. Also, I REALLY appreciate your sentiment that everything doesn’t always happen for a reason. Regardless of any silver linings that may or may not have happened, as you said nobody should have to go through what you guys went through along with countless vets and their families. All we can do is be there for the vets when they come back, as you have been. We Colgate Alums are all very proud of both of you and Grateful as well.

    Thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult anniversary time.

    JJ “Shag” Shaughnessy
    Colgate ’82

  9. MAIA SCHNEIDER

    January 29, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    bEAUTIFUL, lEE, AND A TESTAMENT TO YOUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER. THIS WAS NOT JUST SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED TO BOB, IT HAPPENED TO ALL OF YOU. WHAT YOU TWO HAVE DONE WITH THIS EXPERIENCE IS WONDERFUL. MY HUGS TO BOTH OF YOU –
    MAIA

  10. Janet Tobias

    January 29, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    That is breathtaking.

  11. sUSAN wILLIAMS

    January 30, 2016 at 9:06 am

    bOB AND LEE–i AM SO HAPPY THAT YOU HAVE THIS ANNIVERSARY TO CELEBRATE! tHANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR GOOD WORK!

  12. Mary Ann CRisci

    January 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Dear Lee
    What a poignant and inspirational letter. I am personally honored and proud to know you personally.( yes, this is your landlady from San Francisco). I know how genuine that spirit is. You phrased it beautifully and we are trilled to see how you,Bob , and your family have and continue to press on.
    You are all an inspiration to all.
    God bless you
    Mary Ann

  13. Jane Ciaramella

    February 2, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Dear Lee
    Your gift of putting pen to paPer and letting us In on your family’s journey with TBI is helpful to those of us at the bEginning of our journey with TBI. It is tragic, frightening, exhausting, And so uncertain. You and your husband inspire me. Thank you for sharing and God bless all you do for others

  14. Architects of Change: Bob and Lee Woodruff Standing Up for Heroes | Maria Shriver

    February 26, 2016 at 8:04 am

    […] I urge you to read this letter all the way through. You will never read another like it. Like Lee herself, it is gorgeous beyond the words and may spark the question, “What can I do to help?” It has for thousands who wrote to Lee, also sending pictures of people’s boots. […]

  15. Jay freitas

    March 10, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Thought you might like to see this Video about the origin of Alive Day
    Alive Day CBS News Scott Pelly video with Ryan Kules & Jim Mayer:

    http://youtu.be/5vAHgfQZ9EM

    I volunt at Walter Reed Army Medical center and know ryan & Jim

  16. Karen Harris

    June 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    It’s amazing that some days I can feel like this toward my husband (who was wounded – TBI/PTSD – by IED’s in afghanistan) and I wish i could feel this way all the time. six years later, I’ve come a long way and can see lots of positives that have come from this experience but then i still have bad days. I’m assuming you probably do too. the days when you wonder if you’ll be strong enough to live the rest of your life sacrificing, then feeling horrible for thinking that because he doesn’t have a choice so why should i? it’s such an overwhelming learning experience, an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your husband, your marriage, and even about others that so far doesn’t end.

    i’m grateful for people like you and your husband who use your public names to bring awareness to these issues and who choose to bring good to those that really need it.

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