A Civilians Perspective
WBP Retreat Host Steve Bocher
December 22, 2023
I agreed to host a Warrior Bonfire retreat. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I can honestly say that hosting the retreat at my home in Puerto Rico was a terrific and humbling experience!
In preparing for the event, I was told that I could “hang out” as much as I wanted with the attendees, but that during the discussions I should just be an observer, which made total sense. I wasn’t hosting because I had any desire or intention of making friends with these Purple Heart veterans, I just really felt called to provide them with an excellent place to sleep, hangout and eat as they went through the program. While I believed I delivered on my goal, we housed and fed the men well, I ended up experiencing something much more than simply hosting!
Appreciation All Around – or is there?
From the time the men arrived at the house until departure and then even afterwards, my appreciation and understanding of what it means to be a Purple Heart recipient and a veteran changed. The humbleness of these men, and their appreciation for what we are doing for them was unexpected. Even though I felt that what they had experienced, suffered, and gone through in the military entitled them to much more than what we were providing. They were so grateful for the experience but were much more appreciative of our attitude and desire to give something back for their service.
It was surprising to hear that our actions seemed to be more the exception than the rule when encountering “civilians”. While I remembered the stories from the Vietnam era veterans, I didn’t understand that these types of attitudes or the lack of appreciation is so pervasive today. The look of disbelief when I shared that our family felt it was important to honor and show our appreciation to these men for their service, was astounding. Mostly all of them would reply with something to the effect, that our attitude is not something they encounter very frequently which is terrible sad.
Not all the injuries these men sustained were visible. As I came to learn more about them and their individual situations and in some instances about PTSD and TBIs, it was evident that their lives had been forever changed while serving their country. The more obvious physical injuries sustained were no less traumatic or dramatic in how it affected these men and their daily lives. And yet, all the while, there was no self-pity, nor regret ever expressed for serving. In fact, I heard multiple times from these men that there was lament for their injuries. They feel that their injuries took them away from their units and friends, and they let them down by getting injured. And while not without a myriad of challenges their attitude about their lives today was so humbling.
The Bonds and Connections
While the men engaged with each other in those first hours and days, it was great to watch and listen as their shared experience in serving allowed them to quickly bond and develop friendships. To my surprise, they seemed just as eager to get to know me and understand why I was open to sharing our home with them. As the weekend progressed, it was such an honor to join them on some of their activities and have down time with them, getting to know more about them and their lives. The bonfire and flag retirement ceremony on the last night was moving and emotion filled as the men reflected on their service and comrades lost. By the end of the weekend, it was obvious that everyone wanted to extend their time together. In fact, some local members changed their plans just to be able to spend a few more hours together and those that flew in, the others stayed connected at the airport gates as long as possible before departing for home, just to spend a few extra minutes with each other.
Hosting this event started as a mission to house and feed some veterans. As I reflect, I have gained so much appreciation for the sacrifice that others have and are making on my behalf to protect and defend the freedom which I so casually enjoy daily. I have a new appreciation for my own struggles and challenges compared to what these men and women have been living with as a result of their service to our country. I am not sure if I will ever have a chance to do this again, but I can tell you if I do, I will relish the opportunity to do such a small thing for men and women that have given so much for our country and with any luck I will make a few more friends.