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SAVING A TRADITION

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By Michelle Malkin  •  April 15, 2006 10:42 AM

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Weekly steak dinners for wounded troops at Fran O’Brien’s restaurant Credit: Stars & Stripes

Tied up with covering the illegal alien protests and other reporting duties, I’ve been gravely remiss in mentioning an extraordinary blog-driven action campaign. Milbloggers have worked all week to help save a time-honored tradition at Fran O’Brien’s, a restaurant that caters to wounded veterans in Washington, D.C.

My friend Buzz Patterson, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (Retired), put out the word a few days ago in an e-mail:

This past Friday night I was privileged to visit Fran O’Brien’s steakhouse in the Capitol Hilton, Washington, DC. Every Friday night, Hal Koster, the restaurant manager and Vietnam Vet, invites our wounded soldiers
convalescing at nearby Walter Reed Army Center to a free steak dinner and
drinks
. It was supposedly a “slow” night for our heroes as many were on a
ski trip in Colorado. But I walked into an absolutely packed room of
wounded soldiers and their families enjoying a minor but well-deserved
recognition for their service to our country.

I’ve also discovered since then that the Hilton Corporation will not be
renewing the lease. Apparently, there are too many “liability issues” in
accommodating American heroes in wheelchairs. In fact , the lease (and
therefore the dinners) will expire in a few short weeks. If America had
responded as we would in the past, this would be inconsequential really.
Obviously we have not and it is a tragic commentary on today’s PC-ness.

An Army of Milbloggers launched Operation Perish Hilton (courtesy of blogger Chris Dickson) and Internet activists helped put the heat on the corporation.

Mudville Gazette posts a response from Hilton management.

Get all the background at Andi’s World and Blackfive.

The Washington Post is now covering the story:

The steaks are great, of course.

But it isn’t the T-bones, the porterhouses or the rib-eyes that will be sorely, even painfully, missed when Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse loses its lease and closes its doors this month.

The downtown D.C. restaurant, which has hosted a decade’s worth of power lunches, political dinners and salacious hookups, is more poignantly known for its Friday night steak dinners for severely wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“It looks like they’re kicking us out,” sighed Marty O’Brien, son of the late Redskins offensive lineman Fran O’Brien, before closing the restaurant yesterday afternoon for the Easter weekend.

For the past 2 1/2 years, O’Brien and business partner Hal Koster have made their thick steak dinners and a night of bottomless drinks one of the rites of passage for the soldiers who are steeling themselves for their postwar lives in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs.

They come to the subterranean restaurant, at the corner of 16th and L streets NW in the basement of the Capital Hilton, in volunteer’s vans and trucks. They’re carefully wheeled down the stairs or slowly negotiate the steps on crutches. It has become a tradition so beloved among veterans that Garry Trudeau featured the dinners in his Doonesbury comic strip.

Jim Mayer, a veteran who works at the Department of Veterans Affairs and who helped start the steak dinner tradition, is concerned that the hotel wants to eliminate the spectacle of hundreds of severely disabled soldiers coming in and out of its building or that the restaurant’s repeated requests for a new elevator or escalator to accommodate them was too much.

But Hilton spokeswoman Lisa Cole said the hotel’s position on the lease has nothing to do with the dinners. She said its decision was based strictly on business considerations.

O’Brien’s owners knew their lease was coming up. But after months of negotiations, the hotel chain told them this week that it would not be renewed. The lease expires May 1.

“We’re going to try to relocate. And we’d like to stay in downtown D.C.,” O’Brien said.

The 1st MilBlogger Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., next week, and attendees plan on showing their support for the restaurant and the troops at next Friday’s dinner.

Andi at Andi’s World writes: “[B]arring a miracle, the lease is not going to be renewed. So it seems to me, we have two missions. We need to be sure that these Friday night dinners continue — permanently — for the sake of our troops.” Secondly, we want to do whatever we can to help and support Marty and Hal [the restaurant's owners].”

Hilton official Brian Kelleher will be fielding questions from milbloggers and others about its business decision. Leave your comments and questions at Andi’s blog. She concludes:

This situation has highlighted the power of MilBlogs. When I asked Kelleher if he was familiar with MilBlogs, he responded, “oh yeah.” It wasn’t so much his answer that convinced me we were having an impact, it was the tone of his voice. My guess is that he didn’t know what a MilBlog was this time last week. Kelleher also admitted that he is being inundated with email, so thanks to everyone for applying the pressure.

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