Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=135331
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 10:24:46 PM CST
WASHINGTON - Injured soldiers recuperating in Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Ward 57 are getting special assistance from a galaxy far, far away.
The Pennsylvania Star Wars Collecting Society is selling a one-time run of 1,000 souvenir medallions inspired by the films, with proceeds going to Operation Ward 57—a group dedicated to raising money for DVD players and electronic gaming consoles, like Xbox and Playstation, for the wounded.
The 24-bed Ward 57, known as the “amputee ward,” is home to some of the most severely wounded soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We decided as a group that we wanted to do some sort of fundraiser for Operation [Ward] 57,” said Bill Cable, president and founder of the 350-member Star Wars society.
Cable, 35, was driving home last September from his day job as a Web developer in Pittsburgh when he heard about Operation Ward 57 on the car radio and was moved by the organization’s mission.
“They were doing really good work for people who sacrificed,” Cable said.
In early 2007, one of the group’s founders Deborah Semer came to Washington with her husband, Sgt. Scott Cameron, a licensed practical nurse who was transferred to Walter Reed and began working in Ward 57.
Semer had a visceral reaction when first visiting the amputee ward.
“We went there and hung out with this patient for a couple hours. I just really got upset,” Semer said.
While there, she saw a magazine picture of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice posing with a Ward 57 t-shirt in the publication Stars and Stripes. After buying one of the t-shirts, she eventually returned to Seattle, where she lives most of the time. But Ward 57 was still on her mind.
A Walter Reed staff member reached out to her in March 2007 about acquiring some Seattle Seahawks memorabilia for a patient and big fan of the NFL team who hails from the city.
Semer contacted fellow Seattle Arts Commission member Laura Kelly, the executive director of the Think Big Foundation, a creation of former Seahawk Kerry Carter.
Carter was more than cooperative. The Seahawks put together a gift package full of signed souvenirs. Carter, along with his Stanford teammate Chris Kelly and Semer, visited the patient in Ward 57 to deliver the treasures personally.
When stories of substandard housing conditions for soldiers convalescing at Walter Reed broke in the Washington Post that same year, Semer, Carter and Laura Kelly joined forces to start the Operation Ward 57 group.
The Star Wars society’s medallion sale, which could raise as much as $5,600, is the group’s latest venture.
“What this fundraising effort and others like it do is show the ideals and support of this country. That we appreciate the soldier's and family's sacrifice for this country,” wrote Capt. Kevin Jones in an email from Camp Casey in South Korea.
Jones was a nurse in the ward at Walter Reed in 2007 and was behind the original t-shirt that Semer bought. He remains on the advisory board of Operation Ward 57.
The supervisor of Ward 57, Sgt. First Class Steven Johnson, who has been on the job since 2007, said he wasn’t surprised by the support from a Star Wars society in Pennsylvania.
“People come from very different places to show their appreciation for these soldiers,” said the 40-year-old Johnson.
The 1.75 inch, colored enamel medallions sell to the public for $10 a pop. On the front, they bear the stern visage of the venerable Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. The less stern outline of the state of Pennsylvania encases the society’s logo on the back.
They were inspired in part by the doings of light-saber-wielding heroes in robes, and in part by the mostly military tradition of “challenge coins,” as mementos of service.
So far, the society has sold half of the medallions, and they are going fast.
The force, apparently, is with them.