Jay Leno takes extreme pride in meeting American servicemen and women. Since his early Tonight Show days, Jay has teamed up with organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project to give back to those who've sacrificed so much for their country -- and he continues to do so to this day.
"Each and every handshake puts a smile on my face," he says.
So when Jay first heard of Army veteran Craig Andrade's story, he wanted to do something special to thank him for his service and sacrifice -- both professional and personal. Andrade, who was on tour in Iraq in February 2005, lost both his legs when his foot patrol was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion cost him a friend and left him as a double amputee.
For a time after returning home, Andrade battled depression and shunned efforts at rehabilitation. But he credits his wife for pushing him out of his slump. "Thankfully, my wife was strong for both of us and she pushed me to do what I had to do. She's the best thing to ever happen," he says.
To surprise Andrade, Jay met him and his family at Bob Hope airport in Los Angeles under the ruse of touring Jay's garage. But Andrade's real surprise was waiting inside: a customized, wheelchair-accessible 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan donated by Jay, Chrysler and Wounded Warrior Project.
Outfitted by BraunAbility, a company that specializes in handicap-accessible vehicles, the Pacifica boasts special customizations to make it handicap-friendly, including a large interior space, as well as a side ramp and removable front seats.
The gift, understandably, moved Andrade's wife to tears as she explained how she previously had to borrow a friend's car just to transport the whole family.
Jay, seizing on the emotional moment, once again underscored the importance of Andrade's service and sacrifice to his family. "You know your dad is a real American hero," he says while handing over the keys. "This is for him. … We can't thank you enough."