Stand Up for Heroes is New York’s biggest night of comedy and music, and this year, November 1 will mark the 10th anniversary of the annual event started by the Bob Woodruff Foundation to honor the sacrifices of those who’ve served in uniform post-9/11. Comedians Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart will bring the laughter, and music legend Bruce Springsteen (who has appeared every year since the event began) will perform his hits. The emcees of the event are journalists and Rye, NY, residents Bob
and Lee Woodruff, who created the Bob Woodruff Foundation as a way to turn their personal tragedy into hope for others.
It has now been more than a decade since Woodruff, then co-anchor of ABC News, was nearly killed by a roadside bomb that struck the armored vehicle he and cameraman Doug Vogt were riding in near Taji, Iraq, on January 29, 2006. “I will never forget the soldiers from the Army 4th Infantry Division that I was embedded with,” said Bob. “They saved my life. After the blast they jumped out of their vehicles and forced back the insurgents who triggered that bomb and then got Doug and me into the helicopter.”
The blast caused massive swelling of Bob’s brain. Shrapnel and rocks penetrated his face and neck. He suffered damage to his eye and his carotid artery was nearly pierced. Bob has few memories of that day, but by all accounts, his survival was a miracle.
After being stabilized in Iraq, Bob was eventually transferred to the United States. As he lay in a medically induced coma for five weeks, with a portion of his skull removed, his family was at his side. And though they shared the same fears of the military families praying for loved ones in neighboring beds, they took some comfort in knowing that they had the means to deal with the road ahead.
“I had my eyes open to what it means to serve,” Lee said. “When one of our troops is injured, it’s not just them who suffers, it’s the entire family—and for too many families, they will struggle to recover with far less support than my family has had.”
Ultimately, Bob would wake up and struggle with relearning skills we take for granted, like speech. Though he sometimes finds it difficult to find the “right word” during a conversation, a condition called aphasia, Bob returned to reporting for ABC News within a year of his injuries.
Inspired by their experiences, and the outpouring of support for their story, the Woodruffs created the Bob Woodruff Foundation to create long-lasting positive outcomes for our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured veterans, service members and their families.
“We ask a very small percentage of our population, less than 1-percent, to wage our wars,” said Bob. “Because of this, we’ve removed ourselves from feeling responsible for their care when they return home, struggling with both the visible and invisible scars of war.” These invisible wounds include traumatic brain injury (like Bob’s) and post-traumatic stress, which one-in-five veterans are believed to have sustained.
Lee jokes that it was largely a kitchen table operation at first but received a huge burst of energy, and funds, thanks to Caroline Hirsch, founder and owner of famed-comedy club, Carolines on Broadway. Caroline, along with partner Andrew Fox, proposed adding a night to the already-established annual New York Comedy Festival, that would benefit the foundation. The first show included performances by Conan O’Brien, the late Robin Williams, and Bruce Springsteen. Each year, the event has grown, with $6.2 million raised last year.
Since its beginning, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has invested $33 million to find, fund and shape the most innovative programs supporting impacted veterans, service members and their families. In doing so, it has empowered 2.5 million of our nation’s heroes and their loved ones to recover from their wounds, find employment and find a renewed sense of purpose at home.
“The Bob Woodruff Foundation isn’t just an organization, it’s a family,” says Kirstie Ennis, a Marine veteran who has gone through more than 40 operations since her helicopter crashed in Afghanistan in 2012—including the amputation of her leg. “They’ve been with me in my darkest hours and when you have people like that standing behind you, it’s hard to give up on yourself.”
Contact: Bob Woodruff Foundation, 646-341-6864, 1350 Broadway, New York, NY, bobwoodrufffoundation.com
How to Help
Buy a ticket for Stand Up for Heroes and enjoy first-class comedy for a fantastic cause. 8 p.m., November 1, Madison Square Garden, tickets from $100, bobwoodrufffoundation.org
For every dollar you give, 87 cents goes directly to programs helping injured veterans and their families right now. Donations are tax-deductible.
Online tools are available at bobwoodrufffoundation.org to help you raise money for the cause.
(Photographs by: Ilya S. Savenok; Herrera: Stefan Radtke)