For the past week, heroes from past Indianapolis 500s have toured military installations from Germany to Bahrain to Iraq to Turkey and finally Britain to visit troops at military bases and an aircraft carrier at sea. The reason behind the trip is summed up in a homemade sign in the corner of a window of the ICU at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany "Two small words mean a lot. Thank you."
"This medicine is better than the pharmacy," Air Force Lt. Col. Rich Ciao of San Francisco says about tour participants meeting of the wounded warriors at the facility near Ramstein Air Base in Germany. "This pharmacy doesn't cost anything and isn't dependent on chemicals. It comes from the heart."
Davey Hamilton, who along with fellow Indianapolis 500 drivers Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Sarah Fisher, Larry Foyt, Firestone Indy Lights race winner Martin Plowman and IndyCar Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt are part of the delegation on the 10-day tour of Europe and the Middle East, took the time to talk to an Airman whose ankle was shattered while deploying a robot to investigate a potential roadside explosive device.
Hamilton can relate after an accident in 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway nearly cost him both legs. With surgeons' skills and 21 operations later, Hamilton is not only walking but competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
"It takes your breath away at first," Hamilton says. "I could relate to the young man with the ankle injury. I was in my prime and had a lot of great things going at that time, and to have it taken away in an instant is definitely a life-changing experience. I know what it takes to come back and I see that in them – the willpower and dedication.
"The reason the Indy 500 continues is because of the freedom we have, and these men and women are making sacrifices for us to continue to be free. Thank you doesn't seem enough."
As part of the Goodwill Tour, a 2-seat IZOD IndyCar Series car with a patriotic livery and driven by Andretti gives some of the servicemen and women a chance to experience the sport. Some of the riders are nominated by their squadron commanders as "unsung heroes," while others were selected through a drawing in December.
"I want to give them all rides they'll remember," said Andretti, who manages to drive the bus that takes the servicemen to the car. "I'm having fun. We can give a taste of Indy."