Binding Wounds, Visible & Invisible
A veterans-support organization is issuing a national call to arms to make sure that those who served in uniform receive the help they need to heal on the outside … and the inside.
Woodrow Wilson Reeves was my great-uncle. His story, like millions of other veterans, is as extraordinary as it is typical.
Born in a small town in west-central Georgia almost 100 years ago, Wilson was named for the president who sent American troops “over there” to Europe, turning the tide that led to victory for the Allies in The Great War. When another great war ensued 20 years later, the first one was renamed World War I. Wilson would end up being sent “over there,” to fight in World War II.
He joined the Army in late 1940, and married his sweetheart Kathleen the next year while on leave. By the time America joined the war effort in December 1941, Wilson had been promoted from private to corporal to sergeant, and then to staff sergeant. Early in 1943 he was sent overseas and would end up serving with valor for the balance of the war, fighting in North Africa and in the invasion of Italy, where he earned a bronze star. Two months after D-Day, in August 1944, his outfit landed at Normandy, and joined the long, arduous march across Europe, liberating France and defeating Germany. Through it all he suffered but one physical injury, relatively minor, shrapnel to his left leg, from which he fully recovered.
In April 1945, as the war in Europe was nearing its end, he was promoted to second lieutenant, later serving as part of the occupation force in Germany. After discharge in January 1946, he returned home to Kathleen and a happy marriage that would last another 65 years, to a civilian life that would see him become an executive with a large book publisher, and to a second military career with the Georgia National Guard, where he would rise to lieutenant colonel.
At his passing in 2010, at 90, he was truly a man whose life had been as full in accomplishments as in years. Seemingly, the definition of a charmed life. And yet …
As a platoon leader, Wilson had helped liberate Nazi concentration camps. Whatever horrors he witnessed were not shared with family back home. Nor did he share much more about his wartime experiences than the basic details above.
The Baby Boom of 1946-’64 was fueled by returning veterans, anxious to start families. Wilson, though, was not, and he and Kathleen never did, remaining childless. Older family members said it was because of what he had seen … over there.
Two steps down the generational ladder, I knew my middle-aged, later elderly, great-uncle as friendly and smart. Did he suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? It sure seems that his wounds were not confined to the scar on his left leg from the mortar shell fragment that hit him during the Battle of Monte Cassino in early 1944.
Thankfully, Wilson came from, and returned home to a large and supportive family, with a loving wife and a wide, warm circle of friends.
Not everyone is so fortunate.
And that’s where No Vet Alone comes in.
No Vet Alone provides veterans and first responders with physical and mental rehabilitation, and peer support, to help them cope with or overcome depression, PTSD, and other mental and physical issues. A key focus also is preventing suicide; PTSD, anxiety and excessive alcohol use are often involved in suicides, which far too often take the lives of veterans, at a rate of about 20 per day on average.
No Vet Alone is one of the programs offered through Project Hero, a non-profit organization that uses sports and community-based activities to help vets and first responders heal. Project Hero has helped participants reduce or eliminate prescription drug use, reduce PTSD-related stress attacks and pain, and improve general health, fitness and sleep.
This year, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, falls on a Sunday. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has declared Friday, Nov. 9, as National No Vet Alone Day. Communities across the country will be holding celebrations of veterans during Nov. 9-11, and spreading awareness of the physical, mental and emotional needs of vets and first responders, plus ways to address them.
If you would like to help, and for further information on Project Hero and its No Vet Alone program, go to ProjectHero.org or NoVetAlone.org.