Veterans Day comes and goes each year, but that one day should remind us of the need to honor our nation’s veterans every day on the calendar. We hear about the national debt on a daily basis yet we need to remember the other national debt – to those who have courageously and selflessly served us all.
Allow me to share a story – consider it as just one of countless little-known journeys that convey the spirit of our military veterans. In the fall of 2010, I received a call from General Robert W. Cone, at the time Deputy Commander of the Iraq War. A few months earlier, I was with General Ray Odierno and General Cone in Iraq, visiting troops and sharing a message of post-traumatic stress education and awareness.
Bob Cone was the Fort Hood Commanding General in 2009 and had asked me to help troops and their families process the traumas of the shootings on that post. This time he was calling to request I visit a soldier who had been hit by a sniper and was at the James Haley Veteran Hospital in Tampa.
A few days later, there I was in Lt. Bobby Woods’ hospital room, sharing time and hearing his story of resilience. At one point, Bobby asked me to visit with the other soldiers on the Traumatic Brain Injury floor. I did and in one room was a semi-conscious Army Ranger lying in a bed. I saw pennants of the New York Giants banner, a St. Louis Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, and Notre Dame.
“Brother, looking at your teams I have no idea where you are from,” I said to him. The soldier was Cory Remsburg and while he could not speak, he blinked his eyes in acknowledgment. I saw a smile in those eyes. Sergeant First Class Cory Jacob Remsburg was born in Phoenix and raised in St. Louis. He enlisted right after high school. Cory was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in 2002. He was on his 10th Combat Rotation when SFC Remsburg and his squad were involved with multiple enemy contacts on Oct. 1, 2009.
His squad was responsible for killing nine enemy combatants and they also destroyed a large weapons cache. Cory was seriously wounded by an improvised explosive device. He was transported to a hospital in Germany, and then Maryland, before being transferred to Haley in November 2009. He had been in a coma and was gradually regaining consciousness. Cory remained hospitalized until early January 2011 and then had outpatient status through the rest of the month.
I was assigned to referee an NBA preseason game between the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat in Tampa scheduled for Oct. 10, 2010. Arrangements were made to have many of the Haley Hospital Wounded Warriors attend. Teams were warming up and then came a knock on the referee's door. We were informed that the basketball court was too slippery due to the ice hockey rink below causing condensation. We went through all the NBA protocols and, with concerns for player safety, the game was canceled.
A game that was to be televised by ESPN with Mike Breen, Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy announcing. Disappointed fans exited the building as I explained to the ESPN announcers that we had special guests. We met with Cory, Bobby, and many others. It became a party of recognition. Jeff Van Gundy added, “I will never again refer to a basketball game as war or a battle.”
Fast forward to the Jan. 28, 2014 State of the Union when President Obama introduced the world to Cory Remsburg. And a rarity took place. Both sides of the aisles stood and offered a long round of applause, acknowledging SFC Remsburg and all the military service members he represented that day.
The 2015 Referee Preseason Meetings provided another opportunity to share Cory’s story. I was the Vice President Director of Officials and wanted to discuss resiliency with the officiating staff, so I showed the State of the Union video outlining Cory’s service above self and all he had endured.
I saw tears coming down the face of Joe Crawford, one of the NBA’s most senior referees and could sense a respectful silence in the room by all 60-plus officials. I said, “Rather than me speaking about resiliency, let’s meet resiliency.”
The doors opened and in walked Cory supported by his Dad, Craig, as they slowly made their way to the front of the room. Referees were standing, clapping, and hollering support. Cory was leading again, uniting again just as he has done his entire life. NBA referees lined up to have a photo with this great American and Cory was named an Honorary NBA Referee and issued uniform No. 1.
On Nov. 4, 2023, the Los Angeles Lakers were in Orlando to play the Magic. Cory had asked if he could attend the game. I contacted the Magic office and they said; “We would like to honor Cory before the game as our Hometown Hero.”
As pregame introductions took place, the arena announcer shared SFC Remsburg’s story. Cory told both his dad and me that he would “stand for the National Anthem.” It was an emotional moment to support Cory as he stood, hand over heart. And it was a reminder that we live in the land of the free because of the brave.
SFC Cory Remsburg is the kind of person most of us hope to be. And whether it’s Veterans Day – or any day – honor, thank and support our troops and their families.
Bob Delaney is a national authority on leadership, resiliency, self-care, and trauma awareness, a Harvard Global Mental Health Trauma Recovery alumnus, and an NBA Cares Ambassador. Delaney’s most recent book, co-authored with veteran journalist Dave Scheiber, is Heroes are Human: Lessons in Resilience, Courage and Wisdom from the COVID Front Lines (City Point Press, 2022). He has authored two previous books with Scheiber – Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob and Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress.