The Stella Awards and Frivolous Lawsuits

RV Senior Man - Thumbs UpEver heard the story about the guy who sued Winnebago over its cruise control? According to the story, he set the cruise control while driving and then left his seat to brew some coffee.  Of course, he crashed.  And, as the story goes, he was mad that the instructions didn’t warn him not to do this, so he sued.

If you’ve heard about this, you’re not alone.  It’s part of a viral email note about five crazy lawsuits that received the so-called “Stella Awards.”  The names and personal information about the five “winners” change from time to time, but the circumstances always stay the same. People around the world forward this email to me many times a year.

The awards are named after the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s.  Her name was Stella Liebeck, and I’m sure that whoever started this award named it after her because if there is one lawsuit that everyone in America has heard about, it’s her infamous case.

The problem is, all the stories are fake.  That’s right, they’re urban legends.  It’s easy to believe them, though, because so many real lawsuits are just as outrageous.

While I’ve done my own research on this, the leading debunker of urban legends, Snopes.com, has also exposed this email as a fraud, and you can see their take on it here.  After revealing that the “Stella Awards” are pure fiction, Snopes also takes the time to point out that there is no shortage of outrageous lawsuits in the courts that are real.  Many of the real lawsuits they cite were brought to their attention by yours truly over the years.

Of course, there are a lot better places for information about how junk lawsuits are affecting America than through phony emails.  This blog is just one, and some of the ridiculous lawsuits we have highlighted include:

Some of my other favorite sources for information about ridiculous lawsuits include Overlawyered.com, AbnormalUse.com and CenterForAmericaTV.org.

The next time you see the Stella Awards email note, remember to check back here.  The lawsuits you will find us talking about on this blog and on the websites I just mentioned prove that truth is often stranger than fiction.

 

Annual Contest Reveals What Wacky Warning Labels Say About America

There is a scene in the new “Finding Dory” movie by Pixar that shows a baby stroller with a label that warns not to fold the stroller before removing the child from it. Funny, for sure, and very familiar.  An observant movie-goer in the Chicago area knew immediately that the warning wasn’t simply a tongue-in-cheek joke concocted by Pixar, so she wrote to tell us about it.

It’s a real warning label featured in our popular Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest several years ago, and it just so happens that the movie recently debuted on the same day the winners of our 19th annual contest were announced.

ww16_lightsaberWarning labels that caution consumers about obvious, common sense things have become as much a part of life in America as the ever-popular Disney and Pixar movies. Of course, that’s where the comparison ends, but if you look around you, an argument could be made that wacky warnings are a more ever-present part of our life than any movie by any studio.  When’s the last time you saw a movie? Now, when’s the last time you saw a warning label? How about this morning!

If you counted every warning label you saw from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, the labels would certainly include warnings on bathroom products, kitchen appliances, your car, bus, train, office products, and things you find in your garage. And some of them are downright silly. Have you ever looked at the silver scooter your kids or grandkids use (or which you used as a child, depending on your age)? Right there on the handlebar between the grips is a warning that says: “This product moves when used.” Really!

The Center for America, a non-profit organization that sponsors the contest each year, does so to highlight how our lives are changing by living in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth.  Labels like these are put on things all around us because product makers and retailers know if they don’t put these warnings there, they can be sued. Even if we already know what they’re warning us about.

One year, the makers of a popular wood router were sued by a man in Texas after he decided to use a tool meant for carpenters on his teeth and didn’t like the results. Now, he obviously should have known not to use a wood router to perform dental work. And the courts should have immediately dismissed his lawsuit. But that didn’t stop his lawsuit from moving through the courts and becoming a real pain for the product maker. That’s why the product user guide provided to consumers who purchased that wood router would later feature a new warning: “This product is not intended to be used as a dental drill.” Ugh.

The wackiest warning label of 2016 was found on a toy Star Wars lightsaber.  It says: “For Accessory Use Only. Not to Be Used as a Battle Device.”  Susannah Peate of Carmel, Indiana picked up the grand prize for sending that one to us.

Behind all of this humor is a serious point.  The lawsuits that are clogging our courts are piling costs on consumers and hurting our economy.

A study that compared America’s tort system with other countries revealed that if U.S. tort costs were comparable in size with other costs in other industrialized countries, we could save $589 billion per year for investment in new jobs and consumer spending.

There is certainly a place for legitimate product liability lawsuits. But we also need judges and policymakers to give personal responsibility and common sense a place in our courts again.  Just think if all the money we’re now spending on excessive litigation was spent on job creation or innovation instead. It would give a tremendous boost to our economy. Of course, we might not need labels like the one on a fishing lure that warns, “Harmful if swallowed,” but we’ll trade jobs for laughs any day.

Please read more at EpicTimes.com

♬ “It’s the Most Warningful Time of the Year” ♪

Christmas Tree warningIn 1963, one of America’s favorite crooners, Andy Williams, released a Christmas song entitled “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” that would become one of the standards of the holiday season. Little did he know that by the end of the century, the holiday season would also become the most “warningful” time of the year, too.

How so? Most of the gifts Americans will give to each other during the holidays are plastered with warning labels. In fact, there are often so many warnings that they can’t all fit on the product, so something as simple to use as a fountain pen may come with an “instruction manual” filled with warnings. And many of those labels warn us about things that are such common sense they’re downright wacky.

One of my favorites is a label found on the most popular child’s scooter sold in America. If you look closely, right on the handle bar between the grips it says, “Caution, this product moves when used.” Isn’t that the whole point of a scooter?

There is also a snow sled that warns, “Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions.” Now, if you give your child a sled that doesn’t develop high speed when it’s used, you know it probably won’t be used much longer.

And then there is the label that was found on a live Christmas tree. It warned: “Not intended for human consumption!” What?! We can all understand the need for a warning like that on some fruitcakes, but on a live Christmas tree?

Consumer products are now loaded with warnings because product makers know that if they don’t provide them, even if the warning is about something that is common sense, they can be sued by someone who may be injured while using their product. Everyone knows that a scooter will move when a child uses it, but in America, companies are being sued even when their product wasn’t defective.

Virtually all lawsuits filed nowadays over injuries involving a consumer product have a common denominator: they claim the manufacturer “failed to warn” the consumer about a potential danger. So, even if the danger is obvious, the warning is now provided.

What many people don’t know is that these common sense, obvious warnings aren’t nearly as common in other parts of the world. As the host of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, I have done scores of radio and TV interviews with reporters in Europe and Asia over the years, and the most common question I get is, “Why don’t we see warning labels like this in our country?”

The answer is that the United States is the most lawsuit-happy society on earth, and these common sense warnings are put on our products to avoid lawsuits. The number of tort lawsuits in America dwarfs the number of tort lawsuits filed in any other country in the world when taken as a percentage of the national economic output. In the United States, the amount of the Gross Domestic Product that goes to tort costs is 2.2%. That’s twice what it is in Germany (1.1%) and nearly three times what it is in Japan (.8%). The United Kingdom and France spend even less on tort costs than Japan.

While there is certainly a place for legitimate lawsuits, excessive litigation has become such an everyday part of life in America that many people don’t notice it anymore. And it’s why the holiday season, in addition to being the most wonderful time of the year, is also the most warningful time of the year.

If judges and lawmakers begin telling plaintiff lawyers with regularity that personal responsibility and common sense still have a place in America’s courts, product makers won’t need to keep putting common sense warnings on their products. Until that happens, we’ll continue seeing labels like the one found on a pair of shin pads used by bikers that warns: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”

If you find a hilarious, common sense warning on one of the gifts you receive, send it to us for a chance to win the $1,000 grand prize in our Wacky Warning Label Contest.

The Sticky Legalisms of Wacky Warning Labels

Washington Times 2015 op-edThis op-ed article by the author of “Let’s Be Fair” appeared in the Washington Times on July 3, 2015.

Not too long ago, common sense ruled the day, so called because it was shared by nearly everybody. Common values, commonly understood sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, all expressed in a common language of fairness.

But what’s happened to common sense in America? Our laws, as expressed in opinions by our courts, seem disconnected from the common sense that defined our experience.

Take a look at any of the five labels that have just been named finalists in our 18th annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest.

There’s a warning on a ceiling-mounted smoke alarm that actually says: “Silence feature is intended to temporarily silence the horn while you identify and correct the problem…It will not extinguish a fire.” Really? Someone needs to be told that pushing a button on a device smaller than most cereal bowls won’t put out a fire?

Or take the warning label someone found on a one-inch-tall water-absorbent grow toy that looks like the Easter Bunny. To the amusement of kids across America, it expands when you place it in water. However, read the fine print on the packaging, and you’ll find a warning that says, “This toy is in no way intended to represent living people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended to harm anyone.” Evidently, someone wasn’t amused by the appearance of the toy.

Countless products are plastered with common sense warning labels today because lawyers have advised product makers that if they don’t provide the warnings, they could be sued. It’s why a popular four-inch-long brass fishing lure with sharp hooks dangling off the end now warns: “Harmful if swallowed.”

That warning was one of our past winners. The owner of the family-run business that made these fishing lures for nearly one hundred years without needing to put that warning on its products told us that they finally decided to provide that warning on the advice of a lawyer. They were informed they could be sued under California’s Proposition 65 law that requires labels on products that contain certain chemicals even though no one in their right mind would try to swallow a fishing lure. Prop 65 has been a bonanza for plaintiff lawyers, but according to experts in the field, there isn’t a single empirical study demonstrating any public-health benefits of Prop 65.

While the fear of being sued over risks that are common sense is relatively new in the long history of our country, reformers have been calling for more common sense in public policy for centuries. In fact, as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it’s worth noting that several months before the Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet called Common Sense.

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet helped spark the American Revolution by encouraging colonists to rethink the rules by which they were living, and today, it holds lessons about the importance of rethinking the rules of a civil justice system that forces law-abiding product makers to worry about being sued if someone misuses their product.

In the opening paragraph of Common Sense, Paine wrote that “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” In today’s language, what Paine was saying is that it’s easy lose sight of how wrong something is when it becomes an everyday part of one’s life.

Excessive litigation has become such an everyday part of life in America that many people don’t question it anymore. However, these wacky warning labels – which aren’t found in other countries, by the way – should themselves be a warning that it’s time for us to change old lawsuit habits that haven’t served us well. Judges and lawmakers need to tell plaintiff lawyers that personal responsibility and common sense still have a place in America’s courts. When that happens, we won’t need labels like the one found this year on a bag of frozen catfish pieces that warns: “Contains fish.”

Announcing The Finalists In Our 18th Annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest

WWL15_Smoke_Alarm_Warning_CFAThe five wackiest warning labels of 2015 have just been announced as part of the Center for America’s 18th annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest. They are:

• A label on a ceiling-mounted smoke alarm that warns: “Silence Feature is intended to temporarily silence the horn while you identify and correct the problem…It will not extinguish a fire.” Submitted by Charlene Fairleigh, Eugene, Oregon)

• A warning on a one-inch tall water-absorbent grow toy that looks like the Easter Bunny that says: “This toy is in no way intended to represent living people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended to harm anyone.” Submitted by Jacob Eckberg, Hopewell, Virgina

• A label on a patio door that cautions: “Door may swing open or closed in windy conditions. Door could hit person causing injury.” Submitted by Elizabeth Stout, New Orleans, Louisiana

• A label on a bag of frozen catfish pieces that warns: “Contains fish.” Submitted by James Andrews, College Station, Texas

• A warning at a bowling alley that says: “Bowl at your own risk. Risk of bodily injury is associated with this game.” Submitted by Conor Friedersdorf, Venice, California

We find these silly warning labels on products sold throughout America because, in this era of excessive litigation, labels must do more than protect consumers from possible injuries, they have to protect product makers from frivolous lawsuits.

Tune in to John Stossel’s show on FOX Business News Friday, July 24 to see which labels earn the three cash prizes. The winners are selected by Stossel’s studio audience, and the grand prize winner receives $1,000!

Label On Sports Decal Is Among Five Finalists In 2014 Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest

WWL14_DecalsThanks to the Washington Times for publishing my op-ed (below) about the five finalists in this year’s Wacky Warning Label Contest.  The three cash prize winners will be selected by John Stossel’s studio audience later this month on FOX Business News.

Americans love sports. We also love our sports teams.  And to show our team spirit, we proudly wear the logos of our favorite teams on everything from jerseys and caps to pajamas and socks.

Sadly, too many Americans also love lawsuits.  We are the most litigious society on earth.  And for 17 years, we’ve held the Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest to showcase the lengths to which manufacturers have to go to avoid those lawsuits.  A lot of the labels in our contest have been found on sports equipment, and this year, one of the “five finalists” in our contest was found on a sheet of decals given out to fans of the Buffalo Bills.  You won’t believe what it says.

The sheet of decals was part of a promotional gift package that Bills’ fan, Tim Weibel, received from the team. The package suggests putting the decals on bikes, bike helmets, skateboards and scooters. The decals are fun, colorful and come in a variety of sizes.  But they also include this warning in the fine print: “Decals are for decoration only and will not prevent you from any bodily harm or injury.”

Now, really. You don’t say.

This label is unfortunately typical of warnings today.  In the era of excessive litigation in America, product makers must constantly guard against being sued for not warning their customers about even the most obvious things. It’s one reason a pair of shin pads for bicyclists carried this warning a few years ago: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”

Add to that fear of being sued the growing number of concussion-related lawsuits against professional football leagues and equipment makers, and one can begin to understand why such a warning might exist on decals that can go on a bike helmet.  Well, almost.

One of the other finalists in our contest this year was found on an actual football helmet. “Wacky” might not be the best adjective to describe the label, but it definitely describes the legal atmosphere that prompted the helmet manufacturer to provide this warning to its customers: “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.  To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

That’s right, we are now at the point in America where product makers feel they must advise their customers and potential customers to consider NOT buying their products. Some people blame manufacturers for being overly cautious with these warnings, but it would be more appropriate to blame a civil justice system that has moved too far away from the age-old concept of personal responsibility.

The sad fact is that we can no longer rely on the judicial system to always assign responsibility where it belongs, so we wind up with warnings like the one found on another finalist in our contest this year, an ink cartridge for a printer.  Clearly printed on the package, the manufacturer of a small cartridge measuring no more than 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches warns: “Do not drink.”

While there is certainly a place for legitimate lawsuits, the number of tort lawsuits in America dwarfs the number of tort lawsuits filed in any other country in the world when taken as a percentage of the national economic output. In the United States, the amount of the Gross Domestic Product that goes to tort costs is 2.2%. That’s twice what it is in Germany (1.1%) and nearly three times what it is in Japan (.8%). The United Kingdom and France spend even less on tort costs than Japan.

Call us wacky, but we think it’s time for judges and policymakers to give personal responsibility and common sense their rightful place in our courts again and to eliminate the “lawsuit tax” imposed on American consumers because of excessive litigation.

The real issue is not the obvious warning labels, but the billions of dollars in litigation costs being passed on to consumers.

The “Horse Sense Fence” Offers Humorous Commentary On Life In America

Horse Sense Fence 2

The wacky warning labels found on products sold throughout America have been fodder for this blog for years, but did you know that wacky warnings have now found their place in contemporary art, too?  Let me tell you about Shey Hembrey and the Horse Sense Fence.

Shey Hembrey is one of the most creative artists in America today.  One of his projects attracted so much attention that he was invited to give a TED talk about it, and that’s how I heard about him and his fence.

Hembrey came up with an idea to stage an innovative exhibition that would feature the art of one hundred talented artists.  Staging such an event is a lot of work, but that wasn’t a big enough challenge for Hembrey.  He decided that he would invent 100 fictional artists for his exhibit, and then he personally created 100 wildly different pieces of art – one for each of “his artists.”

The Horse Sense Fence is one of those creations.  The fence involves a common barbed wire fence, but it is different than any other barbed wire fence you’ve ever seen.  Every single barb carries a large pink label that says: “Warning: Sharp!”

In addition to creating the art, Hembrey developed a story for each artwork, and his artist describes Horse Sense Fence as “a commentary on how overcoddled our society has become.” Gee, and we thought we were the only ones to recognize this!

Now, nobody likes to be called overcoddled, but when Hembrey revealed the fence during the TED talk, the audience absolutely loved it.  In fact, it appeared to get the biggest reaction of any of his pieces of art.  You can see his talk here.

As the creator of the Wacky Warning Label Contest, I’m pretty sure why the TED audience loved the warning-filled Horse Sense Fence so much.  The most effective humor is rooted in reality, and the audience knew that common sense warnings are everywhere in America today.

The great philosopher, Plato, taught his students that art imitates life.  I can think of no better example of that than the Horse Sense Fence.

Photo is courtesy of Shey Hembrey.

Washington Times Op-ed Reveals Reason For Wacky Warning Labels

Thank you to the Washington Times for publishing a condensed version of my op-ed below about the reason behind three of the labels in this year’s Wacky Warning Label Contest. To see that op-ed, please click here.

What you’d expect to find on a box of matches are fire warnings.  Instead, the only warning on the packaging of the most popular brand of matches sold in America has to do with a side effect of lighting a match that has never injured anyone.

That warning, which is revealed below, is one of five finalists in the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest announced this month.  For the first time in the 16 years of our contest, three of the hilarious, common sense warning labels among our finalists were prompted by manufacturers’ fears that they would be sued under a controversial California law.  That law, known as Proposition 65, has led to so many ridiculous lawsuits against product makers and store owners in recent years over safe and effective products that have hurt no one that the governor of California and the state Assembly finally bowed to public pressure earlier this year and pledged to fix the law.  Here’s why.

One of the Proposition 65-fueled warning labels in this year’s contest was found on a common indoor extension cord in Michigan.  It’s the kind of white or brown extension cord used safely in millions of homes across the United States every day, and it could have been found in any state.  Manufacturers of popular consumer products usually put one warning on their product that will be used in all states, so the California-mandated warning appears everywhere.  The warning says: “Wash hands after using.” Really, now, do you wash your hands after plugging in an extension cord?

Another Prop 65 warning was found on a package of rubber worms used for fishing.  That warning label, found in Tennessee, says: “Not for human consumption.” Well, at least that one will give the fishers something interesting to talk about while they wait for a nibble.

The Prop 65 warning slapped on a box of matches found in New York cautions users that the matches will actually emit carbon monoxide when used.  Just as has happened for hundreds of years with no record of injury to anyone.  The actual label reads like this: “Combustion of this manufactured product results in the emissions of carbon monoxide, soot and other combustion by-products which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.”

If all three of those warning labels vanished forever, it would likely have zero effect on consumer safety in the United States.  However, if they weren’t there, the product makers and the stores that sell them could be sued and be forced into crippling settlements and legal bills.  An army of personal injury lawyers are filing and working on Prop 65 lawsuits right now as you read this, and the vast majority of the products in question pose absolutely no risk to consumers.  Just ask Chicago area inventor Chuck Firth.

Firth is a cat lover with a background in consumer software who came up with a clever way of making the dirty job of cleaning cat litter less dirty.  He invented an easy-to-use, environmentally-friendly scooper that caught the attention of the nation’s largest pet stores.  They sold so many, and his “DuraScoops” became so popular, that people began buying them for other purposes, too.  A company supplying equipment for the massive cleanup effort after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago bought 4,000 of the scoops to help clean the beaches of tar balls. Cleanup crews loved them.

After ten years on the market, no injuries had ever been reported by anyone using the scoops.  However, that didn’t stop an enterprising personal injury lawyer from suing the stores that sell this wonderful product.  He sued them simply for failing to put a Prop 65 warning on the scoops.  So, how did the lawyer decide that the DuraScoops might be a good source of income for his law firm?  According to Chuck, a representative working for the lawyer discovered the scoops while walking through a store with a hand-held spectrometer that can detect the presence of chemicals covered by Prop 65.  That’s right.  No one had complained about it. No one was injured.  It was part of a fishing expedition.  Fishing for lawsuits.

To those living outside California not familiar with Prop 65, it is a law approved by voters in 1986 with the stated purpose of protecting consumers from exposure to chemicals that have been deemed by the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects.  No other state has done this, and the chemicals are found in thousands of consumer products used safely every day like shower curtains, luggage, Halloween costumes, coffee, and cars.  Their presence in a product doesn’t mean that the product is unsafe.  It just means that the product maker must advise California consumers of the presence of the chemical.

You might say that since these warnings are funny and basically harmless, why should anyone care?  The reason we all need to care is that it has become an enormous burden on job providers who have injured no one.  In Chuck Firth’s case, he is actually immune from being sued under the law because he employs less than 10 people, but the stores that sell his product are being sued and may be on the hook for more than a quarter of a million dollars in settlements and legal fees.  Because of indemnity agreements Firth has with the companies that sell his product, though, his lawyers tell him he may ultimately be liable for those costs.  Firth is now facing the real possibility that the small company he financed with home equity loans will be forced out of business even though he hurt no one.

This travesty is now playing out in countless courts across California and affecting other job providers scattered across the United States.  Even though they aren’t based in California, these companies can be sued if they don’t have a Prop 65 warning on their product.

Critics of the law argue convincingly that the over-abundance of Prop 65 warnings has made consumers in California and elsewhere “numb” to the warnings, and that therefore, the warnings don’t serve any useful purpose anymore.  It has led to such a glut of common sense warnings that even a simple fishing lure that contains three huge hooks dangling off the end must now warn: “Harmful if swallowed.”  That label was actually discovered by the Center for America in our Wacky Warning Label Contest a few years ago.

There is no evidence that fish can read that label, but the rest of us should be able to read the writing on the wall.  If something isn’t done soon to fix the Prop 65 problem, as well as the overall problem of runaway litigation in America, we are going to need something larger than the DuraScooper to clean up the mess created by personal injury lawyers looking to enrich themselves at our expense.

Remembering An American Hero Who Was Honored By General Eisenhower

Into The Jaws Of Death

On March 6, 2013, we lost a true American hero who took part in the Allied invasion of France at Omaha Beach on D-Day.  Fred Millard of my hometown of Northville, Michigan was a member of the heralded 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army, also known as the Big Red One.  Today, I would like to pay tribute to him and share a little of his amazing story.

I had the honor of meeting Fred and then developing a friendship with him because of the Wacky Warning Label Contest that I often write about on this blog.  Six years ago, we just happened to be getting our hair cut at the same time in a small barber shop, and Fred overheard me talking about a local NBC television reporter named Roger Weber who was coming to my office to do story about the contest.  Sitting next to me, Fred mentioned that Weber had once interviewed him, too.

“What did he interview you about?” the barber and I both asked, and Fred said that Weber had come to a local school to hear him talk about D-Day.  His granddaughter had asked him to speak to her classmates after learning that her grandpa was a real-life war hero, and word somehow got out to Weber, too.  Surprisingly, the media and Fred’s granddaughter learned about his war experiences not long after Fred’s own children.  It wasn’t until a camping trip in northern Michigan a few years ago that Fred, sitting near a campfire, began sharing stories from World War II that they had never heard.  Until that day, he had said virtually nothing to his family about his wartime experience.

My, what stories they were!  On June 6, 1944, Fred set off for the shore of Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat with 31 other members of H Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infrantry.  After nearly drowning when his company had to jump into water over their heads, he unloaded most of the gear weighing him down and was lucky just to make it to shore.  Once on the beach, he armed himself with a rifle from one of his fallen comrades and quickly developed a plan for making it to the base of the hill in front of him.

Eventually, he joined up with Joseph Dawson, a captain in another company who is well-known today to military historians for being the first officer to reach the ridge on Omaha Beach.  That area is now reverently known as Dawson’s Ridge.  Later that day, as Fred moved inland, he single-handily captured eleven Nazi soldiers.

Fred told me about that experience on Veterans Day, 2008, as my smart phone captured our conversation. It was incredible to hear him give a first-hand account of the events portrayed in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, and we thought it might be a good idea to record them for posterity. If you would like to hear him tell his story, there is an audio file of our conversation here.

We were driving to Lansing, Michigan that day to hear FOX News host, John Stossel, speak at an event.  Stossel had invited me to New York City many years earlier to do one of the first news reports about the Wacky Warning Label Contest for national TV, and I wanted to introduce Fred to him and some other VIPs who would be there.  Everyone who met Fred that evening enjoyed listening to his stories, and before the night was over, he received a standing ovation from the nearly 1,000 people at the reception.

Fred Millard (middle) in the studio of radio Hall of Fame member, Dick Purtan.

Telling all of Fred’s remarkable stories would take hours, but I would like to share one here because it is an experience that eventually earned him a Purple Heart and a visit from General Dwight Eisenhower.

Long before Fred made it to England for the D-Day invasion, he was part of the army’s campaigns in North Africa and Sicily.  One day while he and his company were making their way through the Sicilian countryside, Fred stepped on a buried landmine.  Shrapnel shot into his legs, back and arms, and he was injured so badly he couldn’t go any farther.  Enemy soldiers were quickly moving in and night was falling, so in the heat of battle, a couple of his friends laid him in a roadside ditch and covered him with hay in the hope that they could come back for him the next day.  All through the night, Fred laid there in pain as enemy soldiers walked by him just a few feet away. Miraculously, he survived, and in the morning, his company returned to rescue him.

After that, he spent several weeks in a military hospital recovering from his wounds.  At one point, he nearly died from blood poisoning caused by the lead shrapnel in his body.  As Fred told me this story, he pointed to where the shrapnel was still lodged in him.  Once he became strong enough to walk, he was sent off to rejoin his company and later to take part in Operation Overlord – the largest military invasion in human history.  Of course, we know it today as D-Day.  It was during this time that General Eisenhower heard about Fred.  He was so impressed that he made it a point to personally award Fred the Purple Heart.

It wasn’t the last major award he was to receive.  In 2010, Fred was also awarded the French medal of the Legion of Honour for his extraordinary bravery in helping to liberate France.  The Legion of Honour is the highest distinction France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France.

It was a great honor to meet Fred and to be able introduce our sons to him.  In recent years, we enjoyed riding our bikes to his house and listening to him tell story after story as his lovely wife, Shirley, would proudly display his latest award or news clipping on the table for us to see.  He also liked to listen to our stories about the Wacky Warning Label Contest, and Fred had definite opinions about why his generation didn’t need common sense warnings like the ones we see so often today.  He would laugh when hearing about a label like the one on a fishing lure that warned, “Do Not Swallow,” and then wonder what has happened to common sense and personal responsibility.  We’ll leave that story for another day, though.

These heroes not only set an example for us through their well-documented bravery and heroism; they have lived their lives as powerful reminders that we as Americans have more in common than we do things that divide us.  Today’s all-too-common “I’m a victim” mentality in America – the very thing that drives much of the lawsuit crisis I comment on every week on the radio – drives much of the political divisiveness that keeps us from doing the big things, the great things.  This is an alien mentality to the likes of Fred Millard and millions like him in the “greatest generation.”  They served, worked, paid taxes, built the strongest nation on earth, and complained very little about the daily “small stuff” that now drives our national discussion.

We would do well as a nation to be reminded of the virtues of this quiet heroism.

Much has been written about the heroic efforts of soldiers like Fred Millard, and it is important to keep all of their memories alive. I have attempted to do that with this tribute to him, and I hope you will join me in honoring this true American hero.

Photo credits:  The top photo was taken on D-Day by  Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent.

The bottom photo was taken by Bob Dorigo Jones. Pictured from left to right are: Dick Purtan, Bob Dorigo Jones, Johnny Dorigo Jones, Fred Millard, an intern at the radio station who was a veteran of Iraq, and Bobby Dorigo Jones. Dick Purtan, a member of the national Radio Hall of Fame, hosted the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest on his radio show for nearly ten years until he retired.  He is a history buff, so we brought Fred Millard to his studio one day to share some of his stories.

Remembering Those We Met At The World Trade Center Ten Years Ago

As we mark the tenth anniversary of the senseless terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, our thoughts turn to those who were taken from us that day, the heroes who prevented even more tragedy from taking place, and those who put themselves in harm’s way so they could aid the survivors.

My thoughts also turn to several people I met in the World Trade Center a couple of weeks before the attack.  We had been invited by ABC News’ 20/20 to film a story about the Wacky Warning Label Contest in New York City, and we spent the day doing interviews in a vacant store in the mall beneath the twin towers.  Sadly, it would turn out to be the last video footage filmed in the World Trade Center for national television.

The producers at 20/20 had decided to set up tables in this landmark location so they could display the products and ask tourists and employees of companies located in the towers to comment on the wacky labels.  The segment was scheduled to air a few days after the attack, but it was immediately shelved.  Of course, the networks focused on news coverage of the tragedy in the days and weeks after the attacks on America.

ABC News eventually decided to air the segment on the wacky labels, but only if all of the people who had been interviewed in the World Trade Center survived.  Happily, the producers learned after much searching that all of the people they had filmed had indeed survived!

The New York Times ran a story in which it reported that the people who had been filmed for the segment thought it would be nice to see the footage taken on that carefree day.  In November, 2001, the segment aired.  There was no mention of where it had been filmed because it was not considered crucial to the segment.  To see the video, click here.

The scenes where people can be seen walking in the background as others are interviewed about the funny labels were all filmed in the lower level of the World Trade Center.

I often think about the nice people we shared laughs with that day.  This week, I will fly my American flag proudly, as usual, and my thoughts and prayers will be with those survivors and all the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.