Working as a journalist, I have come to work very closely with both soldiers and veterans. As someone who also suffers PTSD, their stories and wisdom have helped me navigate my own fickle emotional state throughout the years. This Veteran’s Day, I’d like to share one of the most moving trips I have taken while traveling and encourage you all to not only remember our fallen soldiers but let them inspire you with their strength and passion.
Those of you who have skimmed my ABOUT Page may have caught the brief mention of a car accident in 2008. It was this car accident and months worth of recovery paralleled with a mentally abusive boyfriend that left me with a complex case of post traumatic stress disorder that matured as the years passed.
Much of my work as a journalist since has focused on those who serve or have served in the military, many of whom are also inescapably reminded of the things they have experienced. As it was a privilege to meet them professionally, it was a pleasure to get to know them personally.
Around this time last November, I took a trip to Hawaii. To confront the issues and anxiety that were resurfacing or to escape from them, I’m still not sure. We had a great first night on the island, meeting up with my little brother to sip mai tais out of coconuts and eat a decadent sushi dinner on a restaurant patio illuminated by tiki torches that overlooked the ocean. The next day, as we hiked up Diamond Head, I felt it all come back; the anxiety, the urgency, the alertness, the violent-heartracing-anger with myself.
Not here. I thought. How can this happen? This is supposed to be paradise!
As we hiked on, my brother and father falling behind me, I passed a group of surfers loading their boards on to the top of their car and unpacking sandwiches. I overheard the one in the wetsuit as he explained a recent surfing accident;
“I not only had to relearn how to walk but I had to relearn how to be me, to live. That is PTSD. The accident made me afraid to be even myself.”
The surfer reminded me that along with surfing accidents and other personal traumas, Hawaii is where one of the most traumatic events in the history of the United States took place; the bombings of Pearl Harbor. I realized that nowhere, not even the most exotic, pleasant island is off the radar of for tragedy.
A couple days later, I found myself at the The Pearl Harbor Memorial built in memory of the WWII event that stands as a symbol of healing for survivors and families.
The landscape was lush and the water was a clear, perfect aquamarine. The sun was shining brilliantly. It was beautiful.
This is paradise. I thought again.
As we walked in I tried to imagine it as a working base, the harbor filled with massive ships threaded with officers in crisp white uniforms checking and tuning and preparing and fixing. I imagined that it was probably a day that began not unlike today when the Japanese surprise attacked Pearl Harbor.
We boarded a small boat to take us to the USS Arizona Memorial that marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors that were killed during the attack. I walked in and saw their names with leis of orchids lain across stone plaques. In the center of the exhibit, a viewing window allowed you to look down and see the rusted remnants of the USS Arizona.
While re-boarding, I noted the somber military officers who worked the memorial and how quiet the crowd stayed, each one of us learning and experiencing this alone but together. Back at the visitor’s center, I stood watching a documentary replaying footage of the attack and interviews with survivors. One survivor, his uniform decorated in medallions of honor, sat to speak with curious tourists about what he remembered on that day.
Yet, the ships were still coasting in and out of the port. The sailors still stood tall in their pressed whites. No one here was trying to forget. There were no cheery attractions or gaudy kitsch. Nothing covered up what happened here and what still happened here. That it is still a working Naval station where the United States Pacific Fleet still endures.
Admittedly, that wasn’t the first memorial that I have visited. The memorials that surrounded me while living in Washington DC somehow became a part of the landscape, beautiful structures that I passed en route to work or admired during walks. However, after returning from my trip to Pearl Harbor I thought about them too and how maybe the key to recovery is to do just that: re-cover. Recover all that you can by picking up all the pieces, meditate on what happened and use it to restore yourself. Use it to build something beautiful and revisit it often to remind yourself of how strong you are. Use it to drive you forward, to inspire others and then look back and celebrate how far you have come. To take a lesson from our marines; “Adapt and overcome.”
In honor of those who serve and all who support them. I wish you Happy Veteran’s Day.