"Adapt... Improvise... Overcome!"
This is the brilliant encouraging motto of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America -- IAVA -- and it was made manifest at Cipriani 42 St. this week when the wounded, their defenders, all heroes, met for their sixth annual fundraising gala.
This was not a night for General Petraeus but for our American men and women, especially army and marines. (This week I offered thoughts of sympathy for Petraeus and company, but after the IAVA evening, it is difficult to even give them a stray thought.)IAVA's No. 1 military honoree was, of course, a "no-show." But he wasn't even missed in an evening under Brian Williams' emcee stewardship. It was an evening that whizzed by and went from patriotic good feelings to heroic heights.
- Brian is sardonic, humorous and a perfect emcee for such an evening. (He covered the Iraq war in-depth and in-person.)
This night he led an audience of the social, the wealthy, the wounded and just plain ordinary citizens who can't resist him when it comes to giving more and more to those who deserve it most. (Special thanks go to Veterans on Wall Street, Bank of America, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, Levi Strauss, Centre Partners.)
Everyone stood, reacting to the heart-thumping trooping of the colors and when background music for "The Star-Spangled Banner" failed to materialize, Brian said we'd just skip it and sit down "because anyway, nobody can sing that impossible song." Then he reiterated, "Adapt, improvise, overcome!"
You'd probably recognize the executive director of IAVA, one Paul Rieckhoff, a dynamo who doesn't boast one hair on his head. You probably have seen him on TV defending veterans. He told us about his organization's crisis counseling, veterans in despair, high suicide rates and the need for jobs. After that, Brian told us -- and I quote -- "Go and beat the snot out of your employers who need to hire a veteran for a job!"
Brian also reminisced about his youth spent on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, praised Governor Christie of New Jersey and said how it hurt him to see Sandy's ruins there. He added, "It was not Six Flags or Disney; not even One Flag! It was just Seaside and we loved it." Then we learn that veterans are helping clean up everywhere from Sandy.
Joan Ganz Cooney and Pete Peterson, the civilian honorees, both spoke wittily and briefly. Joan told us how Sesame Street now deals with unusual topics as never before. For instance, helping children adapt to missing military parents... adjust to the seriously wounded... and cope even with death.
Pete said, "I am glad to be here tonight, but frankly, at my age, I am glad to be anywhere!"
He was also the first person, I believe, the only one, to hold up his hand at the auction following and give $50,000 to IAVA. And he had already spent a fortune buying tables.
At cocktails, I was approached by a beautifully-uniformed Marine who held out his left hand for me to shake. I didn't realize who this corporal was, but teasingly remarked, "If you have all those medals, I'd hate to see how a sergeant turns himself out!"
This was Cpl. Aaron Mankin who spoke softly from the stage later and told us of 60-plus operations on his face alone. Brian Williams had set us up to laugh with his introduction of the Cpl, by saying that New York women have a lock on plastic surgery. The Cpl. spends his time as an advocate for the wounded, traveling to show off what he calls "My million dollar face!"
The night ended with a heartfelt award to the musical genius Roger Waters and he gave us a great song as well as a brief documentary of some of his pals who are seriously wounded, but heavy into performing music in spite of it.
I would think an aspiring group would find at least one front man among these heroes and have him leading them in public.You can help IAVA at 292 Madison Ave. NYC 10017, phone 212 - 982-9699, or go to www.IAVA.org.
- Thanksgiving Day and the aftermath! I asked a few of my favorite watering spots what the drill might be?
La Grenouille, the haut French easy-to-reach place on 52 Street off 5th Avenue. They'll close that Thursday but be open again on Friday.
Barbetta on West 46th's "Restaurant Row" is offering "The Most Traditional Thanksgiving!" from noon to 8 p.m. $75 adults, $45 children. Barbetta, only 106 years-old, suggests that first you watch the Macy's parade.
Swifty's, the fun place on Lex near 72nd open Thanksgiving noon till 9 p.m. And you can have turkey again there on Friday.
The Maccioni Family (five -- count 'em, five!) will have all three of its restaurants open, Le Cirque, Circo, and Sirio in the Pierre Hotel. Exotic menus plus soup to nuts, oysters to turkey, pumpkins and chestnuts and Maccionis.
Daniel Boulud has six of the most formidable places in New York open for Thanksgiving and the Friday after. We're talking Daniel, Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, Café Boulud, D B Bistro Moderne and DBGB Kitchen and Bar. The Epicerie Boulud offers Thanksgiving dinners-to-go. Call 212-595-9606.My pet French bistro, Le Veau D'Or, is closed for Thanksgiving but will open for dinner on Friday evening.
- WHERE IS a Richard Burton when you need one? The late actor would surely have been bidding yesterday at Christie's world-record auction of the Archduke Joseph colorless diamond. It went for $21.5 million and we don't know yet who acquired it. But I'll bet Elizabeth and Richard were watching.