My Heroes

From our President and CEO, Gail McGovern

Col. Gregory S. Zehner, Gail McGovern, and Justin Constantine sign cards at the Holiday Mail for Heroes kick off event in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 3rd.

Our culture is constantly debating what public figures, celebrities and athletes are adequate role models for our children. This past month I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and reflect on some of my heroes—people who have shown extraordinary courage and selflessness on behalf of our country and others around the world.

Justin Constantine (seen above) was shot in the head by a sniper six weeks into his deployment as a Marine Reservist in Iraq in 2006. The bullet missed his brain, coming in under his left ear and exiting his mouth. He said if it wasn’t for a fellow corpsman who performed rescue breathing and an emergency tracheotomy, he would have died right there on the spot.

Justin, now an associate general counsel for the Department of Justice, spoke at our kick-off event in Washington, D.C., for the Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign on November 3rd. This is the Red Cross’ annual drive asking the public to send holiday cards with messages of cheer and appreciation for our service members serving away from home this holiday. Together with our incredible partner, Pitney Bowes, we collect cards, screen them for hazardous materials, and deliver them to military bases and hospitals, veteran’s hospitals and other locations during the holidays. 

After Justin bravely spoke about his surgeries, his time spent in the hospital and how much it meant to receive cards of encouragement from men and women around the country that he didn’t even know, there was not a dry eye in the room. Not only did Justin give his time to serve our country, but he suffered a devastating injury that has only moved him to continue to serve others in need. He now volunteers his time with the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps our wounded heroes successfully adjust to life after being injured.

Justin has an incredible heart for service, a deep appreciation for all the support he received during his recovery and a strong spirit that no bullet can take away. He is truly one of my heroes, and I’m grateful for how willing he is to share his story and advocate for our service men and women.

As if that experience weren’t moving enough, the next week I had the honor of attending the Pentagon premiere of George Lucas’ documentary “Double Victory.” The film chronicles the battle African-American airmen fought during WWII, not just against the Axis powers but against racial discrimination. Their courage, determination and belief in true freedom led them to fight for the training they needed and the opportunity to fly and protect our country.

These brave men are also my heroes. Their unyielding desire to serve and to be granted equal rights represent the best of America.

After these experiences, I couldn’t help but relate to the story I read last week about Justin Timberlake attending the Marine Corp Ball with a marine who asked him to be her date via YouTube. Justin wrote a moving blog about his experience saying he’d met many of his heroes in life, like Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, but no one made him feel more honored than meeting the heroes he spent time with at the Marine Corp Ball.

He urged Americans to be active in thanking our military members for their sacrifice—thanking them in person, sending them an email, buying them a beer. I couldn’t agree more. Our Holiday Mail for Heroes mailbox is open through December 9th. Your card will warm the heart of a service member serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or even San Diego, who is away from friends and family this holiday season.

As the stepmom of an Air Force member who spent two holiday seasons in Iraq, I know how deeply touched he was when received these cards. In his words, they helped him get through the holidays knowing others cared.  In fact, this Thanksgiving I will be hosting my own Holiday Mail for Heroes event – right around my kitchen table.  My dinner guests will be making holiday cards for our troops – I would encourage you to consider doing the same at your Thanksgiving feast.

As we begin preparations to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I’m so very thankful for the heroes in our U.S. military and their families. Their sacrifice ensures our safety and freedom. They truly embody the heart of the Red Cross Mission of service.

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