The selflessness of the Magnificent Seven

August 23, 2013 

Bob Wilson



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In their own way, they are the Magnificent Seven, all Army officers and Duke graduates who organized and completed a 500-mile relay run from Duke Chapel to Ground Zero in New York City.

The Seven crossed the finish line Aug. 17. They raised $40,000 for The Mission Continues, a veterans service nonprofit founded by fellow Duke graduate Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL who lost his legs in Afghanistan.

I’m sure every one of the guys would say the run wasn’t a big deal in terms of physical effort, that the objective was service to their wounded comrades in arms. But I’m also sure that running 75 miles – that’s what each of the Seven did – was hardly a cushy trot along back roads to the Big Apple.

They called their fund-raiser The Freedom 500, and along the way their were joined by police, fire and civilian runners in towns as small as Rising Sun, Md., and as large as Philadelphia.

The Seven are all Army ROTC graduates at Duke: Pat Thompson, Kase Diehl, Matt Jones, Seth Brown, Michael Meehan, Jon Harless and Phil Cotter. All are company-grade officers. Thompson is a two-fer at Duke, not only an Army Reserve officer but also the director of men’s basketball operations.

The Seven ran and slept in shifts. Or slept, that is, as much as one could in the escort vans that accompanied them from Duke Chapel to Ground Zero.

Thinking about the selflessness of the Seven, I was reminded of the lack of transition services for veterans of my generation, the ones who came home from Vietnam to an indifferent government and an America that had turned against not only the war but also the warriors.

Most Vietnam veterans went to the war alone and came home the same way. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon relearned the benefit of unit-based decompression.

But there is another important difference between 1967, when I came back from Vietnam, and 2013 when a new cohort of battle-weary veterans is returning to a country more appreciative of their sacrifices.

Today, in addition to service organizations such as The Mission Continues, there are numerous other programs available to veterans to help them readjust to civilian life. It is not as easy as taking off a uniform for the last time and slipping into civilian dress. The hard part is making the mental transition to life in what we called The Land of the Big PX.

No doubt the Greek warriors of Homer’s time experienced the same world-turned-upside-down effect when they returned from their wars. Indeed, the Greeks put 10 years into conquering Troy (assuming there really was a Trojan War), the same time we put into Iraq.

Organizations such as The Mission Continues do much to bridge the gulf between military and civilian life, in this case with six-month “fellowships” for post 9/11 vets. Each recipient works toward full-time employment through a six-month period of service with a nonprofit involved in educational, environmental or social issues.

So here’s hooah! from a vet from a different time to the Magnificent Seven and all those who supported them along the way to Ground Zero. Hooah! derives from a shout used by British soldiers in the 19th-century Afghan wars – heard, understood and acknowledged.

Fits the occasion, I say.

Bob Wilson, a long time journalist and educator, lives in southwest Durham.

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