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Invincible Spirit Festival at Naval Medical Center San Diego

February 19th, 2020

Tubes connecting Dalton Newman to his IV pole swayed back and forth while he walked up and down the parking lot in front of Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), where a line up of classic cars and muscle cars were on display.

Tunes from the 1970s like “Rock’n Me” by the Steve Miller Band played from nearby speakers as Newman inspected row after row of vehicles. With his nurse keeping a close eye on him, he periodically rattled off a fact about the model of the cars or talked about his dream car, a 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle.

“I really love the car show because where I come from, we constantly have car shows.”

The young Marine, like so many other patients being treated at NMCSD, was excited to get out of the hospital for the day to soak in much more than the sunshine.

On Saturday, February 15, NMCSD was the site of the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Invincible Spirit Festival (ISF), which celebrates and honors the efforts of recovering service members, veterans from conflicts past and present, and the medical staff and family members who care for them. 

Newman hails from Myakka City, Florida, just south of Tampa. Two years into his enlistment in the Marine Corps while stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms in California, he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.

The rare form of blood cancer typically occurs in the body’s long bones, including the legs and arms.

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Dalton Newman, a patient at Naval Medical Center San Diego, visits with Gary Sinise and Robert Irvine.

He has been receiving treatment at NMCSD since last August, and according to his nurse, he still has eight more rounds of chemotherapy to get through in the next few months. 

Newman was among a group of service members and hospital staff to meet Gary Sinise and celebrity chef and Gary Sinise Foundation ambassador, Robert Irvine, who made their rounds inside the hospital before the start of the Lt. Dan Band concert.

“Anybody that comes around to help veterans or active duty service members that are hospitalized or have any type of problems, it’s amazing,” Newman said of Gary and the Foundation.

The euphoric, carnival-like atmosphere of ISF was the eighth time the Foundation has held the now annual event on the grounds of NMCSD.

“To be able to have the recognition that what they do matters, and that what they do is appreciated, is really special,” said NMCSD commanding officer Captain Bradford Smith.

The 78-acre medical center employs both civilians and active-duty military personnel at its sprawling facility inside San Diego’s Balboa Park.

“These events help them realize and remind them that the nation supports them and their mission.”

Early in the morning, a fleet of chefs pulled from the senior enlisted ranks of the navy were already anchors aweigh preparing the day’s hearty feast courtesy of the Robert Irvine Foundation.

Among the volunteers “on the line” was Brandon Clark, a chief petty officer from Memphis, Tennesse.

“It’s amazing to be cooking for my fellow service members,” he said while turning over a chicken breast and readying a second to fill its space once done. “I feel grateful to have an opportunity like this.”

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Chefs prepared burgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts for thousands of people expected to attend ISF.

With an estimated 8,000 people expected to attend, Irvine said, “We’ll probably do about 10,000 burgers, 8,000 pounds of chicken, about 7,000 pounds of hot dogs, plus salads, and desserts.”

“Any leftovers,” he said, “go right into the hospital to feed the folks inside.” 

Irvine has been involved in ISF since its inception in 2012. A veteran of the British Royal Navy, he explained that no festival is ever the same nor, for that matter, are the patients. They're just some of the reasons why the event has such staying power.

“The Invincible Spirit Festivals and what the Foundation does is life-changing and leaves a lifetime impression."

The postcard worthy day provided an ideal backdrop. Cool temperatures and abundant sunshine combined with a cloudless blue sky and a soft breeze that made the palm trees dotted around the medical center gently sway from side to side.​

As people mingled about with plates of hot food, Gary Sinise and Lt. Dan Band brought the energy up while playing covers from decades past and present. 

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Service members enjoy a hot meal during ISF.

For many children in attendance, they were in for an exciting surprise when Gary invited a group of them on stage to let loose to “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts.

While the children danced and clapped and moved in all directions, five-year-old Joshua Lively stood among them, holding a handmade sign up to his chest for everyone in the crowd to see. 

Written in blue and yellow-colored markers and crayons, was a message that brought everyone to their feet and a thunder of applause and whistles.

“Done w/Cancer Treatment Thursday.”

When Joshua came off stage and into the arms of his mother, Kristen, he was overwhelmed by the attention. Through his orange-colored face paint that resembled a tiger, he was smiling.

“He’s finishing his cancer treatment this week,” she said.

Since Thanksgiving Day 2018, Joshua has been battling Neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the body’s nerve cells in their infancy.

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Joshua Lively and Gary Sinise share a special moment onstage during the Lt. Dan Band concert.

The Lively family caught the morning local news segment about the Lt. Dan Band concert taking place at NMCSD, where their son has been getting treated. Their bags were packed soon after to begin a much-deserved celebration for what’s to come in the week ahead. 

When the concert had come to an end, and as the crowds began to disperse, patients headed back into the medical center with a pep in their step and smiles on their faces.

​Wherever they may be in their recovery, the honor and gratitude they received throughout the day rekindled something deep down inside that stoked their willpower and grit to bear whatever challenges lay on the horizon. 

It’s called an invincible spirit.​


Written by Brandon Black