Mick Foley is known in professional wrestling as “The Hardcore Legend,” one of the wildest, funniest and most violent men in the history of the business.
In the corridors of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, though, Foley is better known for a hard-core commitment to wounded veterans of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Foley has visited troops at the hospitals or made other trips for the United Service Organization (USO) in and around Washington 20 times in a 20-month period. Last night, for example, Foley took 11 injured servicemen to the Washington Nationals’ game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at RFK Stadium.
“It helps lift everyone’s spirits when someone like Mick comes to visit,” said Dale Bouck, a 31-year-old Army sergeant from Michigan who is recovering from a broken right leg. “For a guy like Mick Foley to come do this 20 times is impressive. Most of the time, we only see people once.”
Alex Nicholl is a 23-year-old lance corporal from Eureka, Calif. He was shot seven times while trying to clear a house and save other Marines in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. His left leg was amputated as a result of his injuries.
He loved the excitement of meeting Nationals players such as Jose Guillen, Joey Eischen and Gary Bennett, who signed autographs and posed for pictures for them before the game.
But it was the presence of Foley that made the day special for the veterans — and the players, too. Bennett was standing in left field during batting practice when he noticed a familiar face in the bleachers.
“Isn’t that Mick Foley in the stands?” he asked his teammates.
Like so many young men of their generation, Bennett and Cpl. Nicholl grew up watching Foley on television.
“I was a huge wrestling fan growing up,” Cpl. Nicholl said. “I used to watch the pay-per-view shows. Mick was great. … He always puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
Foley had another occupation when he wasn’t breaking chairs or body-slamming opponents — best-selling author. He has written six books, including three for children, and has a seventh due to be published soon.
If he is a man of several talents, he also is a man of many personas: He wrestled as Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind, rising to the top of World Wrestling Entertainment by winning three championships and becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in history.
Along the way, Foley was busted up by countless tables and chairs, received 325 stitches, eight concussions and a long list of broken bones and one lost ear.
His heart, though, hasn’t been damaged. Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington, can testify to that. Mrs. Rogers recounts the story of Foley’s impact on one soldier who was wounded in Iraq and recuperating at Walter Reed.
“He was 21 years old,” Mrs. Rogers said. “He had been there for a couple of days, and since he had been there, he wasn’t talking to anyone — the nurses, the doctors or even his parents. As soon as he saw Mick Foley walk into his room, it was the first time his eyes opened the whole way and he started to communicate with us. I will never forget that.”
Foley won’t forget it, either.
“On the first visit, which I believed was going to be my only visit, I came strictly out of guilt,” he said.
“I felt uplifted by the spirits of the servicemen,” he said. “And I didn’t do a lot of talking. They seemed to feel comfortable talking to me, maybe because I was on TV, week in and week out when they were teenagers. Then I would hear feedback from time to time about how one of my visits touched a soldier, and I felt like that was a way I could help out a little bit.”
Foley began his visit yesterday at Fort Myer in Arlington, the base for the units that oversee Arlington Cemetery. More than 150 people lined up for his autograph.
Airman Darrell Miller, 20, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was ecstatic to come away with a photo of himself with his boyhood idol.
“He never gave up when he wrestled,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be like Mick.”