CNN story on HeroBracelets.org
Fallen Heroes; Day Three of Iraq Speeches for Bush; Arthur Winston Retires On 100th Birthday
Aired March 22, 2006 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a listen to just a few moments ago. The president's been continuing this speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, another point he's making for his war in Iraq. We just want to listen to some of the Q&A for just a second.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- it's why I come out and speak. I've spoke in Cleveland, gave a press conference yesterday, spoke in Cleveland Monday, press conference here today. I'll continue doing what I'm doing, just try to make sure people can hear there's -- why I make decisions and -- as best as I can, explain why I'm optimistic we can succeed. One of the things we've got to value is the fact that we do have a media, a free media, that's able to do what they want to do. And I -- I'm not going to -- you know, you ask me to say something in front of all the cameras here.
Help over there, will you? No, I just got to keep talking and one of the -- there's word of mouth. There's blogs. There's all kinds of ways to communicate, which is literally changing the way people are getting their information. And so if you're concerned, I would suggest that you reach out to some of the groups that are supporting the troops, that have gotten Internet sites, and just keep the word moving. It's -- and that's one way to deal with an issue without suppressing the free press. We will never do that in America. The minute we start trying to suppress our press, we look like the Taliban.
PHILLIPS: Now the president continues to talk about the war on terror, right now, live, with that speech in Wheeling, West Virginia.
And back here at home, the most horrible news possible for a military family, learning that a husband, wife, son or daughter has died in a theater of war. In three years of war in Iraq, more than 2,300 American families have received that news. Among them, the Meyers of Indiana. Deborah Meyer lost Jason, her stepson, in Iraq. Also joining me is a man who did something to honor Jason and those like him. Chris Greta and Deborah Meyer, welcome to you both. Great to have you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Well, it's a pleasure. And before we talk about Chris, what you got going, Deb, I want to start with you. Tell us about Jason.
DEBORAH MEYER, STEPSON KILLED IN IRAQ: Well, Jason was our oldest of my stepchildren, and the oldest of our family. And My husband and I have six children between us. He has four and I have two. He enlisted in the Army on September 10th of 2001. He was given the opportunity to get out of going on September 12th, after everything that happened. And he said no, he'd made his decision. And he was deployed at the very beginning of the war with the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia. And he was killed the day that Baghdad was liberated in a friendly-fire incident at the airport.
He had just turned 23. He had just celebrated his first wedding anniversary long distance. And he is sorely missed. But he is one of the chosen ones that made it to Arlington.
PHILLIPS: Well, there are a number of ways that you remember Jason, and one of them is by a beautiful bracelet that you have on your wrist.
And, Chris, that's where you come in. You came up with this idea, herobracelets.org. And if you look at the Web site, you can actually see the various bracelets, the name of that man or woman, and then it's signified by the color. Black is a memorial bracelet. Copper is that individual's deployed. And then purple is the name of an individual who has been wounded. How did you come up with this quite for these Hero Bracelets?
CHRIS GRETA, FOUNDER, HEROBRACELETS.ORG: A couple of things. I grew up back in the '60s and, you know, back when I was in junior high and high school, everybody I knew had POW bracelets. You know, I looked at what was happening here during the last election. And it seems like both sides were using the -- those killed in action for their own purposes. You know, there was a ban on showing the flag- draped coffins. "Nightline" was pulled off the air for reading their names. And I felt that was a disservice for those who had lost their lives.
PHILLIPS: Didn't you also -- I know the things have change since then. As a matter of fact, we did some research to fine out about the death benefits. But when you first looked into it, families were only getting $12,000?
PHILLIPS: That just amazes me. And so did that make an impact on the thought, you felt, I cannot only develop this bracelet, but I've got to start helping these families with regard to cash flow.
GRETA: Yes, you know, I was looking at some of the ages of the families that were being left without a breadwinner, and you know, they were young, they didn't have a lot of money, and the $12,000 didn't go very far. So I found the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and that was just a privately funded charity basically that doubled what the government did.
PHILLIPS: Deb, when you lost Jason, did you only receive $12,000, or had the amount of money changed by then? Because I know there was a lot of political pressure, and then it finally was changed.
MEYER: Actually, because we are not considered next of kin, he was married, his widow received the money. I'm not sure exactly how much she got. So we did not get anything.
PHILLIPS: OK. Well, from the background that we did, DOD had announced in July of 2005 that there were increases to the immediate cash payment from $12,420 to $100,000 for survivors of those whose deaths are as a result of hostile actions that occurred in a combat operation or combat zone while training for combat or performing a hazardous duty. So that's a good sign.
But, Deb, let me ask you, when you look at that bracelet, there's just something about that every day that does something different for you and the family, yes? I mean, there's something about it, versus a picture or maybe a memory, because you can look at it at any moment.
MEYER: Well, wear it constantly; I don't take it off. It's there. Jason's memory's never going to go away, but it's -- this bracelet is a reminder to me that he's here, and he's with us in a way. And it really meant a lot when someone sent me this -- the Web site information, and I purchased the first bracelet that I got, and...
PHILLIPS: Show it to me, again, Deb, and show our viewers what exactly is on there.
MEYER: OK, I'll turn it over. It says, "PFC Jason M. Meyer, Howell, Michigan, United States Army, 04/08/03," and that is his killed in action date. I ordered it and, as I said, I wore it every day until -- and this is where the whole story comes in, is the president was visiting Southbend, Indiana and Mishawaka, Indiana, which is where I live, in the end of February, for a fund-raiser for one of our congressman. And it's long been our goal, I guess, our -- it would be something that would be very -- is very important to us, if we were able to meet the president. While we were told that because of time and everything that it wasn't going to be possible. But he always does a rope line. Whenever he speaks anywhere -- we've been in presence a couple of other times. And just before he got to where we were in the rope line, the Secret Service would say, OK, you've had enough, and they'd whisk him off, so we didn't get to shake hands or anything.
PHILLIPS: Why do I have a feeling you made your way up to the president and gave him a bracelet, Deb?
MEYER: Well, I did.
PHILLIPS: And how did he react? MEYER: Actually I gave it to Chris to give him, because as I said, twice it happened where they pulled us out -- pulled him off. And I thought this is going to happen again. We were toward the end the line, and I thought, here we go. Well, my oldest -- my youngest son was in his Marine Corps ROTC uniform. He was the only one in uniform in the room, and the president happened to spot him and shook his hand. And I was right behind him, and I was wearing the same shirt that I'm wearing, which says, American Gold Star Family Member on it. And, of course, any president or anyone in Congress knows what the Gold Star Family Members mean. And he looked at my son and he looked at me, and he shook my hand, and then he leaned over -- I thought he was just going to give me a hug, and he gave me a big kiss and said, mom -- I said,, "Thank you for the job you're doing, Mr. President." And he said, "Mom, your job is the tough one, and you have the tough job."
MEYER: Because I had also told him that Christopher was number three in line.
PHILLIPS: That's right, because Jonathan's going in the fall, right?
MEYER: Jonathan is serving at Ft. Hood, Texas, and he will be leaving this fall to go to Iraq. And Christopher, who's in the Marine Corps ROTC, and who was with me that day, has already enlisted in the Marine Corps, and will be leaving for basic training in August and he's only 17, and he'll graduate at 17, so I had to sign a waiver allowing him to go. But we support our kids so much that there was no question that we would sign the waiver.
PHILLIPS: Well, it's so obvious. And your family's just been incredibly strong, Deb.
And, Chris, it amazes me that you don't even have a personal connection to the military. It just moved you how these families have been affected and so you started this Web site.
GRETA: You know, it's -- I think what I've taken away from all this is that basically anybody anywhere can go and make some kind of difference. You know, I didn't have a connection to the military. But I own an ad agency and we brand new businesses for people. You know, this is what we do every day.
And, you know, I figured, why can't we use the skills and the talents and the wherewithal that we have to try and do something that may actually make a difference? You know, I've got to say the reaction we've had in the year this site has been up has just been absolutely astounding.
PHILLIPS: Well, it's a fantastic idea. Herobracelets.org. Chris Greta, Deborah Meyer, thanks so much for your time today. And we're thinking a lot about your boys, Deb.
MEYER: I would like to mention two other Web sites that are very important. I just heard the president say, you know, access the Web sites. One is familiesunitedforourtroops.com. And the other one is taps.org. TAPS stands for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. And it is for anyone who's had a military loss. We meet together Memorial Weekend every year and have a seminar and it's a very healing time. And Families United For Our Troops was started by a senator from Iowa who is a major in the army reserves, and he has served, and it's basically about supporting our troops.
And I just heard the president mention that, you know, we need to go to the Web sites. And those are two other ones that you can go to and check it out. And there are stories -- my story happens to be -- or our story, actually, happens to be on the Families United site.
PHILLIPS: We'll click on. Deb and Chris, thank you so much.
MEYER: Thank you.
GRETA: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: Well, 2,318 men and women have sacrificed their lives in the war in Iraq. Their names and faces constantly remind all of us they were more than just a uniform. We salute all our fallen heroes.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant John D. Fry could have left Iraq after injuring his hand last fall, but he stayed. On March 6, he died while disarming a bomb in the Anbar province. His wife said John laid down his life so that other marines would be safe. John leaves behind three children.
Army Private First Class Ricky Salas, Jr., of Roswell, New Mexico, was the father of two children. He was killed by an improvised explosive device near Mosul on March 7.
And Marine Lance Corporal Bunny Long always wanted to be a soldier. His brothers say he begged for an army uniform when he was just 6 years old. He was the son of Cambodian immigrants who fled to the country in the '70s after their first son starved in a labor camp. Corporal Long was killed by a suicide bomber in the Anbar provin