Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles created by best-selling authors, who participated in the USO’s recent Operation Thriller III tour. The tour is the third in the USO’s more than 70-year history, where authors have been sent to visit and uplift military personnel in a combat zone.
I was terrified of this moment. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. Instead, I pretended to be tough. Unafraid. But make no mistake, I was scared.
I was on a USO tour halfway around the world, entertaining our troops and saying thank you to them for what they do for us every day. I was honored to be picked to represent the International Thriller Writers, and over the course of 10 days, I, along with four other thriller writers (Michael Connelly, Kathleen Antrim, Joseph Finder and Andy Harp), would travel to eight bases in four countries, including Kuwait, Turkey, and two other undisclosed military locations. Before the trip started, I knew it would be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
|Bestselling author Brad Meltzer (right) is pictured with Isaiah.
And it was. But at this exact moment — as our van pulled up to the building that was home to a place called Wounded Warrior Center. Just from the name, we knew where we were headed: Here’s where they treated the injured soldiers. My brain flashed to what a fellow author told me — of his experience at Walter Reed Hospital a few years back, talking to a wounded soldier whose body was severely wounded.
Of course, I wanted to thank those men and women most of all. I write about heroes every day in my novels. My TV show tells the stories of historical heroes like George Washington. And in the comic books I’ve written, like the “Justice League,” I wrote some of the most famous heroes of all, including Superman and Wonder Woman. But as we all know, no matter how brave you think you are, in that moment before you walk into an unknown situation, there’s nothing that’ll scare you more than your own ill-informed imagination.
Still, these soldiers deserved my thank you. I opened the door, ready for anything.
Inside, I found Isaiah. He wasn’t lying in bed, wincing in pain. He walked in with a kind smile, all confidence — a young 23-year old African-American who had been serving on the front lines. They quickly told us that the soldiers who had major medical issues were sent to other bases.
Here, in this location, were those with less critical injuries. Isaiah explained that he survived an IED explosion, suffering a double hernia from the injury. But what struck me most was when he said that he was from Florida. “I live in Florida,” I told him. “Where exactly?”
It didn’t take long to realize that he lived right by my hometown — and that he once worked on the same exact campus where my kids went to school. He had to be kidding, right? I travel halfway across the globe and happen to run into the one soldier who I could’ve seen at the local Chipotle?
Just wait, though. It gets better.
As I talked to Isaiah, I asked him what he likes to read.
“Comic books,” he says.
Right there, I smiled. “Which ones?” I asked.
“Justice League,” he told me, at which point I almost fell over.
“I wrote that comic. I wrote Justice League,” I told him.
“No way,” he said, trying to be nice, but clearly thinking I was pulling his leg.
Staring him straight in the eye, I opened the USO shirt that I was wearing, slowly revealing the shirt I had on underneath: a gray one with the words Justice League in big red, white and blue letters.
Now let me be clear for a moment: I wasn’t supposed to be wearing that shirt. That morning, I had run out of white undershirts, so I grabbed the Justice League one out of pure happenstance. And yes, there I was, on a USO tour in an undisclosed military location, where I was wearing the exact t-shirt for the exact comic book that this young soldier, who lived near my exact neighborhood and worked at my kids’ exact school, happened to mention.
Oh, and y’know what else I happened to be carrying in my backpack that day? A copy of Justice League number one. The USO asked us to bring our novels to give out. I also brought a comic. Just in case.
And as for Isaiah, thanks to his injury, he could’ve chosen to be discharged. He was hurt enough that he could’ve come back home. Instead, he asked to return to the fight. I write about heroes every day. But there’s nothing like travelling the world and meeting our troops: the real life supermen and superwomen.
Brad Meltzer is the #1 bestselling author of "The Inner Circle," and the host of the History Channel TV show, "Brad Meltzer’s Decoded." His latest novel, “The Fifth Assassin” comes out in January. He’s also the author of “Justice League of America” as well as the non-fiction bestsellers “Heroes For My Son" and "Heroes For My Daughter,” both collections of real-life heroes who have made the world a better place. Just like Isaiah.
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