With cane in hand and braces on his knees, retired Army Col. Michael Malone walked the shiny black and white marble tiles of the Capitol building’s National Statutory Hall.
It was hours before the July 4 concert and fireworks show and the building was closed for the holiday. But Malone was one of dozens of wounded veterans and their families invited to watch the celebration and pyrotechnical display from the historic building’s west terrace. As the rain fell outside, he and his wife Jennifer wandered the room filled with statues of presidents and dignitaries, stopping every so often to read the plaques on the effigies.
“I suffered a brain injury a few years ago, and I’m still being treated at Walter Reed," said Malone. "I got sick on my last tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Being invited to the Capitol, it’s such a great experience. I’ve never been here before. We’ve both been to the Mall, but never been inside the building.”
Malone and his wife were brought to the Capitol by the Wounded Warrior Project. They and the others invited from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, were treated as guests of honor as part of an annual tradition that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., instituted in her first term with the gavel in 2007.
“On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of our nation and honor the generations of brave men and women in uniform who have fought to preserve our independence,” said Pelosi. “Welcoming our courageous wounded warriors and their families to the Capitol each Fourth of July is a small token of gratitude for their service and sacrifice, and for all they have done to safeguard the blessings of liberty for all Americans.”
Upon arrival, the veterans and their families were greeted by a receiving line of service members assigned to the White House who volunteered to meet them. The families were then each assigned a red coated Capitol guide as a personal escort.
Cpl. Colm Grove and Sgt. Isaiah Angeli, of Marine Corps Base Quantico, were the first faces many veterans saw when they entered the Capitol building.
“We love the event, and we love the people here, and we want to give back because the Marine Corps has given us so much,” said Angeli.
The veterans and their families were given individual private tours, a luncheon, and then escorted to either the Speaker’s Balcony or the Capitol’s West Terrace as special guests of honor. There, the families mixed with Senate and House members, congressional families and their guests and given prime seating to take in the view of the Mall, concert and fireworks.
“This is amazing to see all this, to be here today, especially on the Fourth,” said retired Army Maj. Peter Way.
Way attended the event with wife Ann, his daughter, 2nd Lt. Laura Way, and her boyfriend, 2nd Lt. Samuel Powell, both Army officers. Way said his son couldn’t make it because he was in Colorado attending the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Special rooms with TV monitors and earplugs were set aside as comfort rooms for service members with PTSD or other disabilities so they could have a quiet space away from the sounds of artillery and fireworks if needed.
Retired Army Capt. Luis R. Avila and his wife, Claudia, seated on the Capitol Speaker’s Balcony, said they were having a great time as they sipped punch surrounded by family. Avila served five tours of duty before he was injured in 2011 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Avila is well-known in the wounded veteran community and was the 2017 honoree of the Faces of Valor charitable organization.
Claudia Avila joked that her husband, a regular at the July 4 festivities, was concerned about his viewing position.
“He is worried his fans will be worried that he’s not down there on the Mall and in the rain, because every July 4 concert he’s down there, in front for everybody to see,” she said.
The Wounded Warrior Project
The Wounded Warrior Project assists veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound while serving in the military on or after Sept. 11, 2001.