Chefs Let Wounded Troops Taste Gratitude

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2007 - In an effort to lift spirits and say "thank you" during the holiday season, 10 area chefs presented recovering servicemembers and their families with a mouth-watering meal last night.

"As chefs here in the nation's capital, we do a lot of fundraisers for a lot of different organizations, but this one means so much," said Chef Robert Wiedmaier, owner of Marcel's and Brasserie Beck, in the dining room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House. "For us to be able to come up here at Christmas and use our talents to do something really nice for them makes us feel good, and hopefully they warm their bellies and feel really good about it."

The residents dined on fare that included barbequed brisket, beef stew with potato puree and roasted chestnut soup, among other delicious entrees. Two restaurants provided pecan pie and other assorted deserts.

The idea for the dinner, which is completely apolitical, Wiedmaier said, started with his mother, Virginia Ann Wiedmaier. While a patient at Walter Reed, she told her son he needed to go to the hospital and cook for the wounded troops.

The event, which was renamed the Virginia Ann Wiedmaier Holiday Dinner when she passed away a little more than two years ago, celebrated its fifth year last night.

Wiedmaier, whose father is a retired Army colonel, said the dinners would continue "as long as we need to keep doing it."

"It's in honor of my mother ... so I feel strongly about it," he said. "I'm also hoping that one day we won't have to do this any more."

Until that day arrives, the dinner is just the best medicine the doctors can't order, said Pete Anderson, manager of Mologne House.

"It's kind of a compilation of the community coming together and taking care of the servicemembers ... and showing them a good time," he said. "I think it's as beneficial for all of the restaurants to come up here and be around the servicemembers as it is for the servicemembers to come and enjoy some really, really wonderful food."

The servicemembers tended to be of like opinion.

"It was fantastic," said Army Spc. Cory Smith, who's recovering from injuries to his right eye and hand. "(I tried) everything; really, everything."

Army Spc. Travis Webb, a bilateral leg amputee, agreed the food was good, but said the event was a step better than just a good meal.

"It was better than the food I ate in Iraq and in the hospital," he said. "We appreciate people coming out here and doing stuff like this."

Stuff like the dinner serves as a reminder to the troops that they still have support back home, said Adrienne Trout, vice president of communications and development for United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington.

"It's not just the meal," she said. "I think it's a symbol that America is behind them, that people are thinking of them and they're not forgotten."

USO of Metropolitan Washington has helped to organize the event from the first year, and once again provided volunteers to help out at last night's event. USO volunteers helped to hand out door prizes and took boxed meals to hospital inpatients.

For the second year in a row, USO volunteers also took the same meal to sailors and Marines recovering at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

As the evening concluded and Santa Claus finished handing out gifts to the children, the chefs gathered in the lobby to thank the servicemembers for their sacrifices. But they weren't the last thanks the troops and their families would receive.

Vice Adm. John G. Cotton, chief of the Navy Reserve and commander of the Navy Reserve Force, offered his gratitude and holiday greetings on behalf of the Defense Department and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

"Of all the countries in the world, there's about 112 constitutions, (but) there's only one constitution that starts with the word 'We,'" he said. "We're special. But we're extra special because of our forces we send overseas to give peace and freedom to other countries like you all have done in Afghanistan (and) in Iraq ... so they can enjoy the words 'freedom' and 'democracy' and celebrate their happy holidays and their own religions in their own way."

Chefs Let Wounded Troops Taste Gratitude [ ]