The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies honors Bob Woodruff with 2017 Steinbeck Award
The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, following the long-standing tradition of honoring the achievements of those whose lives were touched by Steinbeck, recognized television journalist Bob Woodruff as winner of the 2017 Steinbeck Award. On February 21, Woodruff was honored for his commitment to hard-hitting journalism and his tireless work on behalf of wounded veterans, marking the first time in twenty years that a war journalist was given the award.
Learning the craft of journalism from the ground up, Woodruff gained experience covering a wide variety of stories, from local reporting on derailed trains to working as an on-screen interpreter during China’s Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. His coverage of Tiananmen Square would inspire him to become a full-time correspondent. He began to work for ABC News in 1996, becoming co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight in 2005. Following the stories that intrigued him, Woodruff began to cover the armed conflicts in Iraq, where in 2006 he was embedded with the United States 4th Infantry Division. “When you’re embedding, you’re there for a long period of time,” Woodruff explained. “You go in and you’ll be there for a month, report on what you see, and then you’ll come back and be replaced by somebody else. I think you need to report by seeing things. It’s harder to get all the sides of a story in any way; it’s even more painful, even more inaccurate, if you report on the wars without actually being in them.”
It was during this stretch of embedded reporting that Woodruff was badly wounded by an explosion, in which he sustained shrapnel wounds in the head. He immediately underwent surgery at a U.S. hospital, his future uncertain.
His recovery was nothing short of miraculous. Without the quick reactions of the dedicated combat doctors who worked quickly to stabilize his condition, Woodruff may not have survived his injuries—a fact which is not lost on his family. His wife, Lee Woodruff, chronicled his recovery, taking an important first step towards becoming a voice highlighting the serious issue of traumatic brain injury among returning Iraq veterans.
“Sometimes your moment rises up in life and finds you,” explained Lee. “We got such an inordinate amount of attention for what happened to us, far beyond what we ever should have gotten. People would walk up to us and say: ‘Here’s twenty dollars, can you make sure it gets to a veteran?’ So we realized we have this voice, and it seemed very incumbent upon us that we do something.”
Inspired and humbled by the support they had received, the Woodruff family established the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support veterans’ causes, focusing on head injuries and related care. With the mission to “give our injured heroes access to the high level of support and resources they deserve, for as long as they need it,” the Foundation has raised over $33 million dollars, connecting to families and providing funds for much-needed relief for the challenges facing injured veterans.
The College of Humanities and the Arts is proud to house the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, which is the only university research archive in the world dedicated solely to John Steinbeck’s life and work, and to teach and promote the Steinbeck’s texts and values. Bob Woodruff, following in Steinbeck’s footsteps, has made great strides to better the lives of others, turning what could have been a terrible tragedy into something that has helped countless others, and will continue to help many more in the years to come.
To learn more about the Bob Woodruff Foundation, visit https://bobwoodrufffoundation.org/