It was all a big joke for service members and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Fisher House when comedian Kathy Griffin came to visit.
With camera crew in tow, Griffin, star of Bravo cable network’s “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List,” spent the morning touring the installation’s two Fisher House facilities and joking with the residents.
“I had to get a pass to come out here so I could see Kathy Griffin,” said Army Cpl. Nicholas Joseph McCauley. “I heard about her; she seemed cool, and my buddy who lost his leg in September kind of figured he’d show me around, make me smile, cheer me up a little bit.”
McCauley is recovering from a head injury suffered March 23 in Iraq. Getting out of the hospital, where he’d been for two days, and verbally sparring with Griffin about his tattoos, a salty take on an Irish phrase, seemed to give McCauley the boost he needed.
“(She’s) the first person I’ve ever met that’s famous,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I get to be on TV, I guess. It’s not cool being on TV in a wheelchair, but I’m alive.”
Army Spc. Michael Brown, a below-the-knee amputee who’s living at Fisher House with his wife and 14-month-old daughter, agreed.
“It’s definitely a cool thing to tell your friends about when you go home,” he said. “It’s definitely a morale booster for everybody that’s here.
“You get so run down with appointments every day and the daily grind,” Brown continued. “Something like this is good to have, a break (to) find out what’s actually going on elsewhere.”
Amanda Poppenhouse, whose husband, Army Cpl. Adam Poppenhouse, is recovering from a recent leg amputation, said celebrity visits aren’t uncommon, and most of the visitors take a real interest in the families.
“We had a wrestler come (from World Wrestling Entertainment), Mankind, I think is his name,” she said. “We met him like two or three times, and he recognizes us, calls us by name. He’s really cool.”
She said visits by stars can offer an outlet for service-members and their spouses to talk and tell their stories.
Service-members and their families soon will have a huge audience to listen to their stories thanks to Griffin, who is planning to turn her visit into an episode for her show. She discovered just how many people are interested in troops’ stories when an episode of her show featured her tour to entertain troops overseas.
“Doing our silly little reality show, we got the most response we’ve ever gotten from the episode where I went and performed in Iraq,” Griffin said. “I got lots and lots of e-mails, ‘How are the guys doing?’ That was an interesting insight to something.
“So often you hear about these men and women and they’re just numbers on the news, and it’s a news story that’s 90 seconds and then it’s on to what starlet was drunk and flashing,” she quipped.
Griffin said the combination of her audience’s reaction to her episode from Iraq and some stories last year about conditions at Walter Reed made her want to show her audience a bigger picture. She wants to make sure her viewers understand the facility and the people there, and Bravo agreed.
“I felt really passionately about doing an episode here,” Griffin said. “What I think is important about today, what’s so great about Fisher House and coming here, is it really humanizes the numbers we see on the news.”
Griffin was working to carry out a secondary mission as well: to make the service-members and their families laugh.
“That’s all I know how to do,” she said. “I think everybody needs a laugh and especially at a time like this.
“I just really, really hope I can provide them a good chuckle,” she said before leaving to spend her afternoon with patients in the hospital and her evening performing a stand-up comedy show.
The episode of her show featuring Walter Reed is expected to air in late summer.
The Fisher House Foundation is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with service-members and their families serving at home and abroad.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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