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Best of The Best

Best of the Best: Gift For A Wounded Soldier

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Robbins Bros, Montclair, CA

EVEN WHEN SURROUNDED by fellow soldiers in war zone, a Marine often finds himself alone with his thoughts — even if it’s just for a moment. “That’s when I’d look at my ring,” says Lance Corporal David Battle.

The ring, a simple titanium wedding band, was a symbol of his bride, Devann — Battle’s junior-high-school sweetheart, whom he had lost track of for several years, then met and fell in love with again, and finally married in June of 2004, just two weeks before he shipped out for Iraq. While it wasn’t an expensive ring, for Battle, the ring symbolized everything that mattered to him — home, Devann, their future together.  

But on one terrifying day last November, Battle’s habitual glance at his left hand was anything but comforting. While in a battle outside the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, the soldier was hit by gunfire in his left leg. Then, while being helped by a medic and another soldier, a grenade exploded 10 yards away from them. Feeling pain in his hand, Battle looked down to see his fingers “turned inside out” by the force of the grenade and the accompanying shrapnel.  

Says Battle: “I could see blood, flesh and bones.” In fact, the only thing on his hand that remained intact was the ring.

Battle was rushed to a nearby surgical facility, fading in and out of consciousness from the morphine he was given to ease his pain. There, his injuries were examined by surgeons who gave him even more bad news — in order to operate and save his ring finger, they would have to saw off the titanium ring.  

Despite the pain, the morphine, and the chaos, Battle made a choice — one he swears he would have made even in less chaotic circumstances. “I didn’t want anything to happen to that ring, so I told them to sever the finger,” he says. “I knew exactly what I was asking them to do.”

Battle’s finger was severed, and the operation was completed. But then, despite all the sacrifices he made to keep it, the wedding band was somehow lost during the course of the surgery.  

Says Battle: “It was a big loss … that ring meant a lot to me. But it would be selfish of me to think my ring was the only thing the surgeons had to worry about at the time.”

THE IDEA

Helping in a Difficult Situation

Battle’s sad, but in the end, romantically inspirational, story made national newspapers in November. Among those moved by the story was Steve Robbins, CEO of Robbins Bros., the self-titled “World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store” with seven locations throughout California. Robbins was alerted to Battle’s story by several customers who spotted the story online.

Robbins, and the rest of the team at Robbins Bros., immediately knew they wanted to help Battle and his wife in some way. After all, says Robbins, “part of our brand identity is helping couples with difficult situations.”

Robbins asked Tracey Lyles, his company’s senior media services specialist, to approach Devann with the proposal of replacing her husband’s ring. “Tracey really connected with Devann, who knew our store,” Robbins said.

In fact, she knew it well. Oddly enough, Robbins Bros. was one of the jewelry stores that she and Battle had shopped to find their wedding rings before he headed off to Iraq. But “they [the rings] were a little too expensive for me,” Battle said.

THE EXECUTION

Money Was No Object

On December 17, money would not be an object. Robbins Bros. first conspired with Devann, telling her that they would give him his choice of rings to replace his lost wedding band. Devann would help by telling Battle that they were going on a surprise night out.  
Best of the Best: Gift for a Wounded Soldier

A limousine was sent to pick up the couple, and Battle was blindfolded, with no idea what to expect. When he got out of the car, and the blindfold was removed, he saw more than 100 people waiting for him: including Steve Robbins, as well as the Robbins Bros. customers who had originally alerted Robbins to the soldier’s story. Battle was greeted by applause and the sound of ringing bells.  

Says Battle: “When I took off the blindfold and opened my eyes, I said to myself, ‘I know that guy’s face’ [Steve Robbins’]. It was a big surprise for me. Not just the ring but to know I touched so many lives.”  

Best of the Best: Gift for a Wounded SoldierBut the surprise was also on Devann, who only expected “a few salespeople on hand to replace the ring”, says Robbins. “She had no idea what was in store”.
To replace Battle’s titanium band lost during his surgery, Devann opted for a men’s platinum and 18K white gold band valued at $900. Robbins Bros. then gave Devann a complimentary three-stone diamond pendant and a diamond cross for Battle’s mother.  

The crowd was treated to a professional singer’s rendition of country singer Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American”. But when the singer crooned Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” it was aimed at an audience of just two. The love song known by wedding singers from coast to coast was part of the couple’s first dance since they were married.

As the event began to die down Battle returned to a familiar looking display case that housed rings that still remained out of reach, even on two months of a Marine Lance Corporal’s pay. When Robbins asked Battle what he was looking at the Marine said, “I never could afford an engagement ring for Devann … she only has a wedding band.” That was all Robbins needed to hear then added a diamond engagement ring for Devann to the gratis jewelry list on the spot.  

Stunned by the sudden gesture, Battle then bent down on one knee (the uninjured one) and made an impromptu reproposal to Devann near the store’s Christmas tree. “It was so genuine and heartfelt,” Robbins recalls. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the store. It was a total love fest.”

THE REWARDS

A Feel-Good Story

According to Lyle, the event was also a big draw for the media — with coverage from CNN, local newspapers and television stations, not to mention local newscasts in many other metropolitan areas across the country.

In terms of expenses, the cost of the hotel, limousine and incidentals came to roughly $2,500. The total bill for the jewelry was $8,485. Other expenses were minimal: the singer was a friend of the store’s management team who performed at no charge and only light refreshments were served.  

For the amount of publicity received, the event was a big bargain. But beyond that, it was just an event that made people, and especially Robbins, feel good. Says Robbins: “What [Battle’s] story represents is hope in a cynical world. Here’s this young couple that represents love, commitment and sacrifice. This situation is inspiring to people all over the world.”

“I don’t think any jeweler could duplicate this one-of-a-kind event,” Robbins said. “The emails received from our customers are what helped us plan this whole event. That’s the [customer] rapport that comes with ‘good karma marketing.’ ”

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