Breaking bread with fellow wounded veterans

Adam Keys, John Peck
Adam Keys smiles at his birthday cake as John Peck, far right, looks on.
CBS News

(CBS News) BETHESDA, Maryland - The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a terrible toll. More than 45,000 American men and women have been wounded in ten years of fighting.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that there are stops along the road to recovery that can include something as simple as a dinner with friends.

It's the weekly Friday night dinner for the wounded and their families. When you're Adam Keys and John Peck and have only one limb between you, "thank god it's Friday" takes on a whole new meaning, as in, "Thank god I'm alive."

"Still hanging out on the weekends, really good friends. Since we're both injured, we both know what it feels like and we both will have each other's back and if anything happens I can come to him or he can come to me," Peck said.

Keys said the two met "in the hospital. All the wounded guys, especially the amputees are on the same place doing the same thing: getting better."

They see plenty of each other but not enough of life outside the hospital. That's what makes these Friday night dinners an institution. They're the brainstorm of two Vietnam veterans, Jim Mayer, himself a double amputee, and Hal Koster, a helicopter crewman who came home with his own case of post-traumatic stress. The dinners have bounced around Washington from restaurant to restaurant and recently reached a milestone Hal Koster never planned on: they've served 30,000 meals.

"When we first started this we thought it would take four to five months and then everything would be over and we'd be done with it," Koster said.

What a steak dinner means to a wounded warrior
The Aleethia Foundation, supporters of the Friday night dinners

By latest count, 436 American servicemen have suffered multiple amputations since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. And it is a fact of amputee life that the more limbs you are missing the more people are likely to stare.

Keys said that, in the beginning it was "definitely" easier to go out in public when everyone was a fellow wounded warrior.

"Yeah, like when I got to the mall, we still get the un-considerate, unappreciative glares and kind of like what happened to you kind of thing," Peck said.

"Some people are clueless and will ask what happened, and then, a couple times, I'll just say, 'running with scissors,'" Keys said.

On this Friday night there's a better reason to look at Adam Keys. He's celebrating his 28th birthday with his buddy John Peck, here at the place where everybody understands your pain.

Below, watch Peck and Keys talk about the challenges of eating with prosthetic limbs.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.