How Death and Disability Save Us

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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How military veterans teach us the meaning of sacrifice and courage, if we let them

I am a disabled Vietnam Era Veteran. My disabilities are largely invisible, like PTSD and others, but they are disabilities just the same. My fellow veterans have different stories to tell from their combat years, as so many more women came back home sans limbs and sometimes, the will to live. Those who pulled themselves up by the proverbial combat bootstraps, especially when they no longer have hands to do so, have a great deal to teach us all.

Improvements in battlefield medicine have meant that soldiers who were once written off can now be saved, although that can often mean that the severity of the injuries means a long road back. The combination of loss of limbs, head trauma and the challenges of trying to return to society are monumental. Yet these people do it all the time, often with the generous help and dedication of non-military folks who possess a great heart for people in need.

That kind of generosity is well-rewarded. To witness the journey to a new life taken by people who have had their bodies and lives blown up in the name of service to flag and country is to be transformed. Most people don't have the stomach. We veterans didn't just have the guts to sign up, we also have had to find the intestinal fortitude to stitch ourselves back together when war and service spat us out.

To that, a lovely woman commented on an article I wrote the other day about those who spend a great deal of time complaining about their lives when they still have all their limbs. Her words were powerful, and I got her permission to share them. For those of you who, like me, have worn the uniform, chose to serve, and left bits and pieces of ourselves in the service either on the battlefield or in the fight to retain our sanity, I dedicate this to you:

As a volunteer and fundraiser for injured Marines these past 17 years I have learned life lessons from some of these guys. Loving every minute of the countless hours I spent at what was known as Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Lejeune. ( It is now referred to as Wounded Warrior Battalion East)

I saw injuries I couldn't believe were survivable. Once I even dragged my Congressman's military liaison down there with me. I wanted to make sure these people knew exactly what the ramifications of their votes could be.

I was old enough to be their mom, but they taught me lessons, not the other way around. One young man lost both legs, and was instantly blinded when he stepped on an IED. He went on to complete his undergraduate degree at UK, is married and has a daughter he will never see. He says he wouldn't change anything about his life, and is a motivational speaker.

Another who stands out was a young man who came out of a tank hit by an RPG in the form of a human torch. I remember being thankful I had on sunglasses the first time I met him. I almost lost my breath. He is a profile in courage, as are so many.

It's normal to become annoyed, upset, even feel a little sorry for yourself at times. I am guilty as charged. But the experiences I had with the young men I helped taught me lessons I shall never forget, and how to survive personal devastation in my own life.

It's true everything is relative, but if you've had the opportunity to witness the overcoming of adversity as I have, I believe you can manage much more than you may have thought you could, even if you experience a personal injury to your body or your soul so crushing you must literally consider whether or not you wish to remain on this earth. Sometimes it takes more courage to stay rather than go.

Those who don't understand this are truly unfortunate. They've not been taught the life lessons the Marines taught me. The Marines I helped think I saved them. In reality, those boys saved me. I am eternally grateful to each one of them.

My thanks to Mandy for allowing me to quote her here.

My fellow service people, whatever service you chose and I was Army, we didn't just protect American values, freedom and her way of life. We have also shown, for those who have the courage to witness our journey back from physical and mental devastation, what it takes to stand up after being shot down. Not all are so fortunate. We lose far too many to despair and homelessness. In that regard I am one of the lucky ones, for I used my military rape history to put steel in my backbone and become a speaker and writer on the topic myself. None of this is easy, and that way is also full of landmines, the kind the blow up your heart.

However, those incredibly brave folks have a way of saving America several times over. Not only did we fight for her, when we came out of the service we often had to fight for ourselves, our right to proper care, against prejudice and resistance. And those, like my friend, who took the time to work with us learned some valuable lessons about what raw courage really looks like.

If you have a servicemember in your family, this article is for you. If you are a veteran, this is for you. The men and women who survived the horrors of war and the greater challenges of regaining their ability to be engaged in life are indeed profiles in courage. You know who you are. We know who we are.

And those we have not yet helped, who inhabit the streets and cities of despair in America, we owe them a great deal more than just our thanks. We owe them our help, for as you can see above, they have much to teach us about sacrifice.

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