Chapter no 84


BUT SPENT THAT SUMMER of 2008 not thinking about it.

I didn’t think much about anything, besides the three wounded soldiers who’d been with me on the plane home. I wanted other people to think about them too, and talk about them. Not enough people were thinking and talking about British soldiers coming back from the battlefield.

With every free minute I was trying to work out a way I could change that.

In the meantime, the Palace was keeping me busy. I was sent to America, my first official working trip there. (I’d been to Colorado once, white-water rafting, and touring Disney World with Mummy.) JLP was involved in drafting the itinerary, and he knew exactly the kinds of things I wanted to do. I wanted to visit wounded soldiers, and I wanted to lay a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center. And I wanted to meet the families of those who’d died on September 11, 2001. He made it all happen.

I remember little else of that trip besides those moments. I look back and read stories of the hullabaloo, everywhere I went, the giddy discussions of my mother, much of it due to her love of America and her historic visits there, but what I remember most is sitting with wounded soldiers, visiting military gravesites, talking to families swamped in grief.

I held their hands, I nodded and told them: I know. I think we all made each other feel better. Grief is a thing best shared.

I returned to Britain firmer in my belief that more needed to be done for everyone affected by the war on terror. I pushed myself hard—too hard. I was burned out, and didn’t know it, and many mornings I woke feeling weak with fatigue. But I didn’t see how I could slow down, because so many were asking for help. So many were suffering.

Around this time I learned about a new British organization: Help for Heroes. I loved what they were doing, the awareness they were bringing to the plight of soldiers. Willy and I reached out to them. What can we do?

There is something, said the founders, parents of a British soldier. Would you wear our wristband?

Of course! We wore one at a football game, with Kate, and the effect was electrifying. Demand for the wristband skyrocketed, donations began rolling in. It was the start of a long, meaningful relationship. More, it was a visceral reminder of the power of our platform.

Still, I did most of my work behind the scenes. I spent many days at Selly Oak Hospital, and Headley Court, chatting with soldiers, listening to their stories, trying to give them a moment of peace or a laugh. I never alerted the press and only let the Palace do so once, I think. I didn’t want a reporter within a mile of those encounters, which might look casual on the surface, but were in reality searingly intimate.

You were in Helmand Province too? Oh, yes.

Lose any guys out there? Yeah.

Anything I can do? You’re doing it, mate.

I stood by the bedsides of men and women in a terrible state, and often with their families. One young lad was wrapped in bandages, head to foot, in an induced coma. His mum and dad were there, and they told me they’d been keeping a diary about his recovery; they asked me to read it. I did. Then, with their permission, I wrote something in it for him to read when he woke. Afterwards, we all hugged, and when we said goodbye it felt like family.

Finally, I went to a physical rehab center for an official engagement and met with one of the soldiers from the flight home. Ben. He told me how the IED had taken off his left arm and right leg. Boiling hot day, he said. He was running, heard a blast, then felt himself flying twenty feet into the air.

He remembered seeing his leg leaving his body. He told me this with a faint, brave smile.

The day before my visit he’d received his new prosthetic leg. I glanced down. Very sleek, mate. Looks quite strong! We’ll soon see, he said. His

rehab regime called for him to go up and down a climbing wall that day.

I hung around, watched.

He settled into a harness, grabbed a rope, shimmied up the wall. He gave a rousing whoop and cheer at the top, then a wave, then climbed back down. I was astounded. I’d never been so proud—to be British, to be a soldier,

to be his brother in arms. I told him so. I told him I wanted to buy him a beer for getting to the top of that wall. No, no, a crate of beer.

He laughed. Wouldn’t say no to that, mate!

He said something about wanting to run a marathon.

I said if he ever did, when he did, he’d find me waiting at the finish line.

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