I would be spending a couple of days at Palm Key with the children of Wounded Warriors and this was a chance for me to “give back”. It was also a good fit with my ongoing work supporting military families and affiliation with Operation Military Kids. Little did I know the tired, old cliché, “When you give from the heart, you get more than you give” was about to take on new meaning in a totally unexpected way.
During breakfast the spouse of a wounded and totally blind warrior told how she and her husband visited with other newly and severely Wounded Warriors. By sharing their experiences, her husband rediscovered peace and purpose in his life. Sometimes they were well received but, at other times, they were met with bitterness, hostility and resentment and were asked to leave. It was in those challenging times they most often stayed the longest.
I overheard another man, who was experiencing an ever increasing loss of balance, ask a blind woman who walked with a prosthesis how difficult it was to use her guide dog. He had been contemplating the use of a guide dog but was concerned about the difficulty of their mutual training. As I left them, I heard her encourage him to overcome his fears and give the dog a try. “Things are completely different now that Isaac has come into my life,” she said. Isaac, like several of the other guide dogs I met at the site, greatly improves the quality of life for their owners and proudly wears a harness emblazoned with the words “Patriot Paws”.
The annual Lt. Dan Weekend, named after the fictional character in the movie Forrest Gump who lost his legs fighting in the war in Vietnam, is sponsored by the Independence Fund, an all volunteer, not-for-profit corporation entirely led and managed by combat veterans. The Independence Fund’s core mission is to provide the tools, therapies and guidance to veterans, who have been severely injured in the Global War on Terror that they would otherwise not receive from government sources.
Entertainer Gary Sinise, who played the role of Lt. Dan in the movie and is now the star of CSI-New York, stopped by for lunch before his evening concert. He spent over an hour talking one-on-one to and posing for photos with each veteran present despite having a recent leg injury that has temporarily relegated him to a cane.
It was encouraging to see so many volunteers dedicated to supporting and honoring our Wounded Warriors. Without volunteer support along with the support of the city, county and State governments, the events of the week would not have been possible. However, what moved me most was watching and listening to those receiving such a memorable experience continue to“give back” after already having given so much. Their lives and what they share with one another made the words of John 14:27 come alive for me. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Home again and unpacking the car, I thanked God for the unexpected gift I had received from these warriors and asked Him to forgive me for the pride I had packed amid the boxes before I left. Here I thought it was I who would be doing the giving…
Note: To date, more than 6,000 service members have been killed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and close to 50,000 have been physically wounded with an estimated 300,000 suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
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