Growing up as the daughter of a World War II veteran was one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me. My father, Irving M. Isaacson, served in the 80th infantry for over 4 ½ years. Though he would fight in the “Battle of the Bulge” and would lose many friends, he considered his time in the military one of the greatest experiences he’d ever had. He believed in the United States and was proud to fight to defend our land and our people.
This pride translated into growing up in a very patriotic home. My father made sure to raise the flag on all national holidays. Flag Day was never ignored in our home. Memorial Day brought back memories of the people he lost. He had respect for the day and never looked to celebrate with barbecues and shopping for sales at the mall. I learned to respect the day and the people who we lost.
From a young age my father taught me to respect our country and those who fought and continue to fight to keep us safe and free. It wasn’t until he passed in 2001 that I understood his passion for his fellow veterans and our country. He lost his life due to an auto accident that occurred on his way to a Jewish War Veteran’s meeting. His friend at Post #126 gave him a military send-off and informed me that he spent the last years of his life dedicating his time to helping wounded veterans. Whether they needed to travel to a medical appointment or go to a baseball game, he would take the time to make sure they got what they needed.
Hearing about this part of his life really struck me yet it made perfect sense. Of course he volunteered in a quiet way. It was his way.
In 2009 I was invited by Cliff Nolan, a friend who works for the Teamsters Union, to visit our soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to help bring them some cheer for the holidays. I had no idea that this trip would change my life.
To quote to artist Stevie Nicks, “I walked into Walter Reed an average American…I walked out a mother of our soldiers”. Visiting our wounded soldiers was a humbling experience. They were so dedicated. Most told us they wanted to return to their units to ‘finish the job’. I saw dedication, pain, sadness, and love of country in their eyes. I felt their passion and need to continue. I knew that, for many of them, the road to healing would be tough and many would not make it. The suicide rate among our veterans is 22 a day. These young men and women had raised their hands to protect my family and allow my sons to go on with their lives. I knew I had to do something to help. I knew I was going to do something to help.
Once we left Walter Reed I was reminded of an earlier time, a moment when I was lost, sad, and angry, but found meaning. As a teen I went through some tough times. I was extremely rebellious and difficult. In spite of my behavior (or maybe due to it) my parents sent me on a teen tour to Israel. It was at the Western Wall that I felt at home for the first time in my life. The spiritual power of the place overtook me and gave me a greater purpose and made life meaningful.
It occurred to me that the same thing may help our veterans. What if I took them to Israel, they spent time with their Israeli counterparts who have gone through the same experience, and visited the holy sites? Would they feel as I did? Would it help them heal?
There was one way to find out. Heroes to Heroes was born.