It’s that time of year again – time for the annual Hometown Holiday Greetings, the short clips of our military service members abroad, sending messages to their loved ones back home that air on local radio and television stations. I’m thankful for those melancholy reminders of families separated by war and the answered call to selfless service. And I hope they will remind Americans of just how much we have because of those who, throughout the centuries, have answered that call to sacrifice and service.
This year I am particularly grateful to those left scarred by their service to our nation. Over the past several years, I have had the privilege of getting to know a few of them through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a program that helps those recovering in military and veteran’s hospitals regain confidence and fine motor skills through fly fishing and fly tying. U.S. Army officer Eivind Forseth is just one of those who come to mind.
Severely wounded in Iraq while serving as platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne, his sacrifice – and that of his loving family – lasted for years. Physicians were able to save his right arm and eye, but in doing so, he endured multiple, marathon surgeries as bones, tissue, nerves, and skin were replaced. He spent months of endless days fighting infection and seemingly endless nights fighting flashbacks. Through his recovery, there were no pain killers for family members who supported him through the struggle and who wanted only to take some of his pain on themselves; but there are no shortcuts in a recuperation of that magnitude.
I met Eivind some time after that along the banks of Mossy Creek in Bridgewater, Virginia. He was still wearing compression bandages on his right arm, but sparkled at the prospect of going to battle against a trophy-size trout. Three years of therapy later, the bandages are gone and limited function has returned.
Not all of the service members I’ve met have visible wounds like those. Others seem whole and healthy until the traumatic brain injury they suffered causes a sudden loss of balance, concentration, or worse. Others have suffered as the emotional impact of what they experienced has created a barrier between them and their loved ones – the very people they need in their lives to love them all the way home.
This Thanksgiving, I am giving an extra prayer of thanks for these heroes for whom the war remains a part of their daily reality, for the family members and medical professionals who form a new platoon of support for them, and for the veterans of prior wars who freely and generously let these new warriors know a brighter tomorrow lies ahead.