Political prop or not, Duckworth emotion all too real

SHARE Political prop or not, Duckworth emotion all too real

Political props surround us.

Watch the State of the Union speech or any State of the State speech and you’ll find similarities. That is, the use of the anecdote, complete with a real live visual aid, during the speeches.

We saw it in President Obama’s remarks to the nation; we saw it in Gov. Pat Quinn’s remarks to Illinois residents.

They’re called out by name. They’re held up as an example of why a certain policy is needed. They’re from Middle America; they’re teachers, they’re schoolchildren.

They’re soldiers.

Of course, these are real people. But to cynics among us, we question if these people really are behind these words and ideas. Or are they being used by politicians to further an agenda?

That brings us to what likely is one of the most memorable moments in a State of the Union speech.

While talking about winding down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Obama recognized U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg. Obama had met him at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

“Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program — a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch,” Obama said. “A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.”

Cameras focused on Remsburg, who offered a sweet, genuine smile and a thumbs-up. His face was visibly injured. Obama described the coma Remsburg endured, how Remsburg had to learn how to walk again, how he remained blind in one eye.

Obama’s reference to Remsburg set off a wave of chatter. One columnist cast the exchange as “morally dubious.” Many people questioned why Remsburg had been deployed 10 times.

I asked the White House if these were voluntary deployments. They couldn’t tell me and referred me to a family spokeswoman, Paula Lovell. “His deployments were nonvoluntary in that he was assigned when he chose to re-up with the Rangers.”

In an interview Wednesday with CBS, Remsburg put to rest any questions about his dedication to the military. “In a perfect world, I’d do it all again,” he said. “I’d go back if they let me.”

During the State of the Union on Jan. 28, Remsburg won one of the longest standing ovations in recent memory.

When it began, he struggled to stand as his father lent him a hand. He smiled the most sincere of smiles, then seemed to be taking in his overwhelming surroundings.

One member of Congress clapping for Remsburg that night connected so forcefully with the moment that she could barely talk about it days later without breaking down.

“I just remember rolling into that room and sitting in that balcony and how emotional Bryan and I were,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said in an interview, recalling the first time she witnessed a State of the Union address. She was a guest, not a member of Congress, attending with her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey. “I was just eight weeks from surgery; I was still in pretty bad shape. We weren’t sure if I was going to be able to keep my arm. I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional now,” she said.

Sen. Dick Durbin invited Duckworth to be his guest at the speech in January 2005. George Bush was president.

Duckworth had suffered permanent injuries while piloting a military helicopter in Iraq. She was shot down on Nov. 12, 2004. She was put into a medical coma. Both legs were amputated. She kept both arms but lost some use in one of them.

“It was literally my first trip out of the hospital. It was really emotional,” Duckworth said.

“Being on the floor [this year] and seeing that young man up there, and I’ve known what he’s gone through. When the president said, ‘the Army that he loves …’ ” she said, breaking down again, her voice barely audible.

Duckworth said she got lost in thought for a moment as she looked up at Remsburg and, along with the entirety of the room, clapped for a glorious two minutes.

Cameras caught her at one point as she put her hand to her face, wiping away tears. She felt a tap on her shoulder. Another member gestured to the central section of the room.

There was Durbin, staring at her.

“I looked over, Sen. Durbin was looking at me and pointing right at me,” that’s when she said she really broke down.

“You’re on the floor, you’re small in comparison to him. I don’t know if that makes sense,” Duckworth said of Remsburg. When Obama said Remsburg was injured after his 10th deployment, one of the members sitting near Duckworth gasped aloud.

“It’s a good reminder of the sacrifices that these men and women make and they make for us,” she said. “Until you’ve served 10 rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have no idea what these families go through.

“It was an uplifting moment. We were honoring him, and he was inspiring. I think people saw that we are all Americans and that moment was a moment for all of America,” Duckworth said. “I think the fact that everybody leapt to their feet was a symbol that we do come together.”

Even the cynics.

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