Donor, party help heal Marines’ wounds

July 8th, 2011

By E. J. Montini | The Arizona Republic | Azcentral.com | July 7, 2011

Charlene Bruce is having trouble finding words to describe how her family's world has changed since receiving a call months ago saying that her son, Robert, a Marine corporal, had been gravely wounded in Afghanistan.

"It was the worst news you can get," she says. "But now it's really good. But when I put it that way, people look at me with this expression that says, 'What?' It's hard to explain in a few words."

I'm in the business of few words. Maybe we could sum up the story in headlines.

Or better yet, tweets. It's a new day, after all. The world is all a Twitter. We'll try three tweets, each under the 140 character limit.

1. Local Marine is wounded in Afghanistan.

2. Wounded Marine welcomed home with party.

3. Anonymous donor pays for party and gives $10,000 to Semper Fi Fund for wounded Marines.

Last week, I wrote a column about the welcome home that Charlene Bruce was planning for Robert, who lost both legs below the knee to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

It was not a sad story.

It was just the opposite.

Charlene marveled at how her son had maintained his sense of humor and his optimism from the moment he was wounded.

She spoke of the inspiration he was to other injured soldiers and Marines who were recuperating in military hospitals.

If he showed any frustration, she told me, it was only that he wasn't getting back on his new artificial legs and feet quickly enough.

And so last weekend, as part of Robert's return home, Charlene and her daughter, Robin Seger, organized a party in Robert's honor at the Rockin' R Ranch in Mesa.

Robert wasn't interested in all the fuss, but he agreed to go along with the event if it was used to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, which assists injured Marines and their families. (You can donate through semperfifund.org.)

"It was tough putting everything together," Charlene tells me. "And the weather was so hot. But things worked out really well. Everyone had a good time, and there even were a few surprises for Robert."

Cpl. Bruce was injured while trying to assist another Marine who'd been wounded in an explosion.

That Marine, Cpl. Gallagher Roed, lost a leg.

He traveled from California to attend Robert's party.

"It was great seeing them together," Charlene said.

"Here are these two young men who have been through so much, but you could tell that they weren't going to let it slow them down."

Several local television news crews showed up at the party.

Cpl. Bruce told one of them, "We have more brothers hurt worse than us, so they are our inspiration."

Cpl. Roed added, "It's just another chapter of my life. I'm still standing here, so I will just go forward."

Charlene can't believe how things have changed since she and her husband, George, learned that their son had been wounded.

"At first you don't know how it's going to go," she says. "And then, in a way that I'd have never guessed, what had been one of the worst things to happen to our family turned out to be one of the best things. It has brought us even closer together."

The Monday after the party I got a telephone call from Rabbi Stephen Kahn of Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale.

Rabbi Kahn told me that a member of his congregation had read the column that I'd done about Cpl. Bruce and his family and wanted to pay for the party and donate $10,000 to the Semper Fi Fund.

But he didn't want to talk about it.

According to Rabbi Kahn, the anonymous donor "is a very generous and kind gentleman and rarely wants anything 'named' for him."

Charlene Bruce, her son and their family say they are "overwhelmed" by the gesture.

"This man will always be in our hearts and in the hearts of many wounded Marines and their families," she said.

"He will help many. He should know that. People who live here should know that about him."

Now, a few more of them do.

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