Picture us going down to our desks to take a look at our email like we do every night of our lives before we head up for the night and I have over 50 emails from our Kelly Car Buyer form. When I open them up, my emotions are reeling from sorrow, to awe to humility. Parents of soldiers are thanking us for what we have done and soldiers are asking us for jobs. We heard from an uncle who has been out of work for two years and he’s supporting the child of a serviceman in Afghanistan and a woman who has three sons “over there” right now and I want to thank you.
The emails are coming now at a clip of 5 to 10 a minute. Our son-in-law called and said that the phones are ringing off the hook and they can’t keep up. Everyone is either looking for a job or wanting to thank us or talk to Sue or me. We are sitting at our desks in utter awe of the power of a 6 minute piece on Dateline. Then I remembered how “The Road Back” affected our lives to the point of driving 4 hours to offer a man a job when he thought I was a “get rich quick” purveyor.
We stayed at our computers for another two and a half hours just answering emails and thanking people for their kind words and answering every Vet who wrote looking for a job. Justin sent me some links to job websites to send these Vets but somehow it felt like I was abandoning them. “Here Buddy, go to this site and all your problems will be solved.” What is happening? We went from a couple hoping to do something for a Vet to wondering what else we can do.
We head to bed wondering what to do or say to all these people.
The day arrives and admittedly we have been caught up in this 15 minutes of fame that we never planned or lobbied for, but our kids have been excited and it’s been kind of infectious. Everyone in town who has heard about it, has been congratulating us and all we keep saying is: “thank you and do you know anyone who can hire a veteran?” Well we are amazed at how many people we know that said yes. ‘How do we find them? Do you have anyone who is a veteran looking for a job?”
Sue and I are pinching ourselves and wondering if these people are just patronizing us or do you think we could hold their feet to the fire if we knew any veterans looking for a job. We called the VFW and asked if they know of anyone looking for a job but I quickly realized that I was looking in the wrong place. We went online and found some wonderful sites with large numbers of jobs posted and thought this would be a great idea and Justin pointed me to the job fairs that NBC is sponsoring for all these folks. We were really encouraged and hoped we did some little part in raising recognition but let’s be realistic; NBC has gone to great lengths to try and match Corporations with Veterans in need of a job and we’re just a couple or people caught up in the effort.
So, Dateline airs and our kids called and friends sent us text messages and it was really a feel good moment for us. Suzy lamented her chin and I tried to figure out who that large man was that was sitting next to her. We then had some dinner and walked down to our computers.
After the interview, Justin and the crew came over to the house, shot some B-roll (production talk for shoot some video of these folks so we can cover up the edits), had us drive around the block with a camera on the dash and just basically tried to get some shots of us looking normal. God help me. I was trying to convince all who would listen that their cameras seemed to add about 50 lbs to my real girth. That lasted about 90 minutes and the “circus left town” just as quickly as it had arrived.
Tuesday evening the phone rang and it was Justin asking us if he could talk to the other two vets that we hired after Charles. It was never a plan of ours to hire several veterans but once we saw what kind of person Charles was, we made it a point to take a much harder look at veterans and almost by fate, two appeared within weeks of each other. We subsequently hired Mike Morales and Jon Kendall and have found in them the same qualities that we saw in Charles. The next day, a cameraman was sent from New York and she shot Charles and the two boys and Justin now had all the pieces he needed for our piece on Dateline, Sunday, the 25th of March.
On Saturday, Justin published the lead into the story and it was getting close to a reality. From the call from Charles to National TV, it was little more than 10 days. In Justin we found someone who really cared about his work and unquestionably cared about Charles. From Kuwait, to Iraq, to Fort Benning, to Sparta to Crystal Lake, these two have come to respect and care for each other. It was heartwarming to see for Sue and I.
We were able to get access to our Country Club for the interview and the crew loaded in at about 7:30 the next morning and by 10AM they were about ready to shoot and we were asked to show up for sound checks and all. Pretty heady stuff for folks like us. Then as we were talking to Justin, this pretty dapper fellow walked up behind us, shoved out his right hand and said: “Hi. I’m Brokaw.” Gosh, I must say that it was almost surreal that Tom; our Walter Cronkite was here in Crystal Lake to talk to a couple of kids who just wanted to give a guy a job and help restore his self respect and probably some of our own.
His first question was: “Where’s Charles” and it was obvious that they had some history together by looking at how Tom scanned the room for the guest of honor who hadn’t arrived yet from the hotel. He sat across from Sue and me and we just talked about the club and how our business works and he told us about having an old Ford on the market that he never drove anymore. All the while, we were hearing the cameramen and sound techs talking in the background and as the pitch increased, I knew we were close to the interview beginning.
Then as if on cue, the kibitzing stopped and Tom started asking questions without a note card or teleprompter. He was so prepared that I was frankly caught off guard. He was the consummate professional that we all know him to be and before you knew it, it was over. After we were done, Tom was showing us pictures in his Blackberry of Majorca, Spain where he’d just flown in from and he was thumbing through photos from where he had been biking just the day before. We talked about the Daley’s, Chicago politics and then almost if on cue, Tom’s face lit up as Charles entered the room. It was obvious that Charles and Tom had an affection for each other and as Charles was interviewed, Tom seemed happy that Charles was a changed man from the last time they saw each other.
With the interview finished, Tom signed several pictures for Charles, three books for Sue and I and he was off to go bone fishing on an island in the Bahamas. The man who chronicled “The Greatest Generation” was gone.
Charles called me on about the 10th of March and asked if I would like to talk with an old friend of his; Justin Balding, a producer for NBC. After I agreed, he explained to me that NBC was doing a week of promotions titled “Hiring Our Heroes” and that he may want to speak with Sue and me about doing something about why we hired Charles. We thought it would be neat to help and if we could help get one more veteran hired, it would be a pretty cool thing. Then Charles asked me: “Do you have any skeletons in your closet?” and we laughed but he said: “This man could make you famous, Boss and if you’ve got any old scars, they could show up.
Well at our ages, we’ve all got a few old girlfriends or battle scars I’m sure we’d wish to forget, but we plunged in without any thought at all. Justin called just a few minutes later and within a day of him speaking to Sue and me, he had scheduled an interview with Tom Brokaw and Charles to be aired on Dateline this past Sunday. Talk about a whirlwind affair!
Justin came into Crystal Lake on the evening of Sunday, March 18th and Charles arrived at almost the same time and we took them over to one of the most unique places in town for dinner: The Breakers. By the end of the evening, we had exchanged old stories, had a great time and headed home for the night.
Three weeks went by and we never forgot about Charles, but we knew that as every day went by, we had a less and less of a chance that he’d ever take the leap to working with us. We spoke to him a couple times during those weeks but it was pretty clear that he hated the job but had resolved to his fate. The thing we had going for us, we came to find out later was that Charles was in such pain every day that when he got home, he was almost crippled from his workload.
Then one day the call came in and I’ll never forget what Charles said. “Sir, I began in the military shoveling poop and here I am 21 years later and I’m back shoveling poop in a psyche ward of the hospital.” Well the rest you can figure out.
Charles began working for Kelly Car Buyer in mid-September and has been a real asset to the company and all of us whom he touches, but this is only the beginning of what was to happen next.
We arrived at the Weaver’s home about 3PM and nobody was home. Sue and I sat out front wondering if they didn’t take us seriously and thought we may not show. We took a ride around town for about 20 minutes and looked at the big bike in the middle of town and then drove back to see if anyone was home.
When we returned, there was Charles and Chase in the garage talking about his soccer practice. Dawn followed a bit later and we sat down to convince him that we were serious and wanted him to work with us. The next problem was that the VA had just offered Charles a job being a maintenance man at the hospital and Dawn leaned toward the security of Charles working for a concern that was a sure thing.
So, Charles went to work for the Veteran’s Administration and we went home with the old; “We gave it a shot”. We did tell them both that the offer stood for the foreseeable future because we weren’t looking to fill a position. We came looking for Charles.
Sue and I left the next day to meet Charles and take him and the family out to dinner. We were excited like kids driving up there and worried all the way that Charles wouldn’t take the job. We knew this was our chance to make a difference in one family’s life but more importantly, we could help restore the dignity in Charles that all of these returning vets deserve.
We have hired hundreds of people over the course of our professional lives, but we have never had the opportunity to make this kind of impact, or maybe it was just the first time that we had seen the plight of someone unemployed portrayed so vividly. Maybe it’s just that we have matured to a point where we would like to stop thinking of ourselves so much and need to help some people. I think I’m going to stop wasting time trying to figure out our motivation and just do it!
I love that movie “Dave” with Kevin Kline where he owns a Temp Company that gets jobs for folks. His great line is: “It’s Monday and everyone works on Monday”. Well hopefully, we can try to make it Monday for a lot of these returning vets no matter their skill sets or challenges that they may have.
Anyway the drive up was mixed with both anticipation and nerves as we hoped we could live up to our expectations. Could we be the people we so wanted to be? Could we really get a guy like Charles to work with our family?
When Sue and I saw Tom Brokaw’s “The Road Back”, we knew that Charles needed a job and it was our turn to give something back for all we have enjoyed on the backs of these kids. As soon as we wiped the tears from our eyes, Sue said: “That’s Our Guy, but we’ll never get him.” She thought that all the folks who watched the program would be making him job offers.
I headed down to the computer, searched his name and Sparta Wisconsin and voila’. I called him within a few minutes of the program ending and left him a message that we wanted to talk to him about a job. Charles called back the next day and when I told him we wanted to hire him, his response made my heart hurt. He asked me “How much is this going to cost, sir?” I told him that he had paid more than enough to which he thanked me and would talk to his wife (Dawn).
We were afraid that we would never hear from him again but he was a man of his word and called me two days later and told me that he had spoken with his wife but she wanted to know how much was this going to cost. That’s when I knew this poor guy thought this was some “get rich quick scam” and we had to go up and meet him and his family. Unless they met us, he would never believe that we didn’t want anymore from him than a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and to get him working for Kelly Car Buyer, asap.
Back in early August 2011, Sue and I watched a program titled “The Road Back“. Little did we know that it would take us on a journey that has barely begun. Here we will try to document our feelings, experiences and the people we encounter along the way.