Amid the joy of a three (or four!) day weekend with a promise of hot, mostly sunny days, it can be difficult to remember that the reason we have this unofficial start to summer is to pause and honor those who have fallen in the name of the United States of America. Politics and personal feelings about our current wars notwithstanding, those who have died deserve remembrance, as do their loved ones.
Those who served and returned (sometimes to serve again) also deserve attention and support. The tradition of flying the flag at half-staff only until Noon* on Memorial Day expresses this need to honor those who have died while also encouraging and acknowledging those who live on with us.
A Montclair photographer, Leslie Granda-Hill, has created a beautiful method of honoring soldiers who return wounded, both in body and mind: Coming Home. From her website: “Coming Home [is] the story of American soldiers that have physical and psychological injuries sustained during their service in the US military and their individual paths to recovery. While many of the wounds may be invisible, the pain and suffering these men deal with needs to be recognized and treated.”
The photographs are stark and beautiful, and they include soldiers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, and World War II. Each photo includes information about the soldier and his situation today. Perhaps visiting Coming Home could be one way we participate in the National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day.
Ms. Granda-Hill also recently contributed photographs to a moving book about one of the wounded veterans in the photo essay, Luis Montalván. The memoir, Until Tuesday, is really a love story about a man and Tuesday, his service dog. Tuesday is the name of the service dog that has allowed this veteran with physical scars as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to live an active life. It begins with how service dogs are trained, what they do for their owners, and how the dogs overcome their own challenges. Montalván also describes Tuesday, a lovable, curious, and sensitive golden retriever. And for all you dog people out there, you’ll enjoy the descriptions of the development of the relationship between the author and his dog.
Here’s a taste from page 200: A few days later, Tuesday quietly crossed our apartment as I read a book and, after a nudge against my arm, put his head on my lap. As always, I immediately checked my mental state, trying to assess what was wrong. I knew a change in my biorhythms had brought Tuesday over, because he was always monitoring me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Breathing? Okay. Pulse? Normal. Was I glazed or distracted? Was I lost in Iraq? Was a dark period descending? I didn’t think so, but I knew something must be wrong, and I was starting to worry … until I looked into Tuesday’s eyes. They were staring at me softly from under those big eyebrows, and there was nothing in them but love.
The memoir is not all sweetness about a beautiful dog, however. Tuesday is helping the author move on from serious trauma in his body and his psyche; mixed in with the more joyful moments are intense and sobering accounts about IEDs and suicide bombers. Montalván takes the reader through an assassination attempt that left him with spinal and brain injuries that were not discovered for years. He also describes the anger (a change from his former discipline) and loyalty to his soldiers that encouraged him to sign up for another tour of duty despite almost constant pain and misery. Once home, he experiences intense flashbacks and pain that isolate him from friends and loved ones. This memoir reminds us of horrifically true and painful events and consequences – like PTSD – endured by the soldiers because of the wars we are still fighting.
Leslie Granda-Hill’s photographs are a part of this important story that gives hope that someone with devastating injuries can live a life with joy and purpose.
You can see Mr. Montalván explain more about the book here.
I bought my copy at Watchung Booksellers. For every copy of Until Tuesday that Watchung Booksellers sells (or has ordered) this week, ending on June 6th, I will give a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project. So, buy a heart-warming book and donate vicariously (or directly!).
+ Just hours after I originally posted this on 5-28-11, I received an anonymous comment with this link to Gawker in which there are claims that some of the memoir is falsified. I can’t speak to that; the story is moving as it is. Perhaps, as with other memoirs, we can call it a story of catharsis and lessons learned instead of absolute truth?
* I actually double-checked myself, so if you don’t believe me, click here.