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Dinners for Wounded Soldiers Continue

Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- When word spread on the Internet and in military circles that a Washington hotel restaurant was canceling a weekly free dinner for wounded U.S. soldiers, all hell broke loose.

But now comes word that the get-togethers are back on and are scheduled to resume on May 5 in another part of the hotel.

Here's how the battle to reinstate the dinners went down: For the last three years our wounded heroes from Walter Reed Army Hospital have been bused each Friday to a free dinner and refreshments at Fran O'Brien's Steakhouse in the Capitol Hilton Hotel.

But it looked like the popular and healing tradition was coming to an end when O'Brien's lost its lease.

First on the front lines was a legion of military bloggers, who wondered if the wounded patients had worn out their welcome at the hotel – perhaps owing to the often dramatic nature of their injuries and the fact that they were being paraded before the regular clientele of the hotel.

Buzz Patterson, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (retired), and host of "The Buzz Cut" on the Rightalk Radio Network, lamented the looming loss of the Fran O'Brien's tradition. As he expressed to NewsMax: "The important thing is that Fran O'Brien's has, for as long as I can figure, hosted our wounded and recovering war heroes from Walter Reed and Bethesda each Friday night with a steak dinner and the beverages of their choice. I was honored to visit along with several friends and was shaken to the core of what I thought was a grizzled Air Force pilot and veteran.

"The back room of this very popular restaurant was absolutely jammed with wounded soldiers and their loved ones. When I first walked in, I felt like I was home again."

Hal Koster, the proprietor of Fran O'Brien's and a Vietnam vet, and his partner Marty O'Brien are the gentlemen behind the red carpet treatment for the wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines. They expressed disappointment that the lost lease might have consequences for the patients who look forward each week to the event as an opportunity to enjoy a respite from the rigors of therapy and rehabilitation.

But the furor dimmed after Hilton Hotels in general and the Capitol Hilton in particular made it clear that the lapsed lease had nothing to do with the vets, and that Hilton was going to do its best to continue the prized dinners at another venue in the hotel.

This past weekend, Brian Kelleher, general manager of the Capital Hilton, and Lisa Cole, a regional director of communications for the Hilton Hotels Corporation, issued this statement to NewsMax: "For strictly business reasons related solely to the inability to reach a new lease agreement, the Capital Hilton has elected to terminate the lease with the operator of Fran O'Brien's restaurant at the hotel. This decision was not at all related to the Friday night dinners for disabled veterans but rather a result of lease negotiations that failed.

"The hotel has offered to host and sponsor the May 5, 2006 dinner and expressed interest in working closely with Walter Reed so that the Friday night tradition can continue. Furthermore, the hotel is in discussions with one of the sponsors of the Friday night dinners to continue their support of the dinners.

"The Capital Hilton prides itself on its involvement and support of many community organizations and events and has provided complimentary or discounted rooms to families with veterans in the hospital, donated facilities to military organizations and most recently hosted a meeting for 300 people."

The rescheduled Hilton-hosted event will not be in Fran O'Brien's, but in an alternative hotel venue such as the Twiggs Lounge or a conference room.

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WASHINGTON -- When word spread on the Internet and in military circles that a Washington hotel restaurant was canceling a weekly free dinner for wounded U.S. soldiers, all hell broke loose. But now comes word that the get-togethers are back on and are scheduled to resume...
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Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM
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