November 9, 2012 at 10:20 PM
These young war veterans didn’t lose any limbs in combat. They returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan a few years ago all in one piece, but soon began to feel the pain of invisible injuries they didn’t even realize they had.
We hear the names of these injuries more and more these days: PTSD for post-traumatic stress disorder and TBI for traumatic brain injury. Yet it is hard to fully understand the struggles these veterans go through to keep themselves together.
As Veterans Day rolls around Sunday, I will be thinking of these soldiers and the thousands more among us whose wounds cannot be seen but are very real.
After two war tours, Timm Lovitt came back home to Lynnwood in 2005 with one goal in mind: to get his college degree. But the former U.S. Army sergeant quickly found himself at a disadvantage. He couldn’t retain anything he studied would study. “I would read a page and immediately forget what I had just read,” Lovitt, 30, told me over coffee at Edmonds Community College Student Union Hall.
Doctors told him that he had lost his visual retention due to a traumatic brain injury. Lovitt guesses it may have been caused by the shock of a suicide car bomb explosion in Baghdad. He survived the attacked and was back on patrol the next day.
The TBI diagnosis allowed Lovitt to benefit from school exceptions for people with disabilities, like extended time for exams, and access to audiobooks — and found that his memory responded to sound better than images. In 2010, Lovitt graduated with honors from Seattle University.
In Iraq, Air Force Security Forces sergeant Nikki Davis and her eight-person squad provided ground security to Air Force installations. Asked about her worst experience, the self-described tough girl from Tacoma only wants to say this: “We were always fired up and ready to go.”
After her deployment, Davis, 34, quit her eight-year military career and started a new life. She juggled college classes and a job as a Pierce County bus driver.
Eventually, the stress of combat caught up with her. She couldn’t control her anger and felt no empathy for people. “Anything would get me from 2 to 60 in a hearbeat,” said Davis, who still worries someone may sneak up behind her if she has her back to the door.
Davis only started treatment for her PTSD four months ago, but she’s happy she finally sought help. “I need help. It takes a while for a veteran to say those words.”
Jeremy Grisham, a Vashon Island native who is now 37, grew angry and depressed after returning from Iraq in 2003. The Navy medic felt he could have done more to save Iraqi civilians left dead and injured on the roadside during the speedy march to liberate Baghdad.
When he returned to San Diego, where he was stationed with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, Grisham struggled at work. Even the most simple medical procedures became hard to deal with; everything felt like a life-or-death situation. He started cutting himself and had thoughts of suicide.
In 2005 he was diagnosed with PTSD and left the Navy, beginning a slow path to recovery and eventually returning to the Puget Sound area. Grisham has found ways to cope by working on habitat-restoration projects with other veterans and rollerskating with friends. “It’s important not to let the injuries define us.”
A group of Vietnam vets recently helped Bernard Baker move into his new house in the Tacoma area. Baker, a 6-foot-1 guy with the build of a basketball player, was so embarrased to get the help from older guys that he got dizzy and vomited.
Severe vertigo and migraines are just some of the symptoms of his TBI. Too much light can also make him faint and he often wears sunglasses inside the house.
Of his tour of duty in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, the Brooklyn native remembers the adrenaline rush of combat, bullets whizzing by, and an IED hidden in a garbage can that exploded within feet of his Stryker vehicle, knocking him off his seat.
Baker, 36, spends much of his time at doctor appointments now. Life feels like a roller-coaster ride, he said. “If you don’t seek help, your problem gets worse … I just don’t want to be left behind. Don’t forget me.”
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend
November 5, 2010 at 6:59 PM
Sketched Nov. 3, 10:50 a.m. [Click sketch to view larger]
At the height of his career drawing portraits of presidents and Hollywood stars, Edmonds artist Michael Reagan received a phone call that changed his life. “How much would you charge for a portrait of my husband, who died in Iraq last year?”
His immediate reply: “I can’t charge you. I’m a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran.”
Seven years later, Reagan has drawn 2,391 pencil portraits for families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent one depicts Spc. James Robinson, of Lebanon, Ohio. The father of two was on his third combat tour when he was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 28, said widow Kate Robinson, of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The drawings — each takes five hours — have become Reagan’s unpaid, full-time job. They provide closure for the families, he said, and for himself. After Vietnam, “this project has brought me home.”
Reagan will receive Washington State’s 2010 Outstanding Veteran Volunteer Award during Saturday’s 45th Annual Veterans Day Parade events in Auburn.
The Fallen Heroes Project
Watch Reagan draw and talk about “The Fallen Heroes” project on this upcoming Fox News Channel “Real American Stories” video.
November 3, 2010 at 5:32 PM
Sketched July 15, 2009, 10:16 a.m.
I’m reposting this sketch of James B. Thoren, a WWII veteran I met at the Flying Heritage Collection last year.
The sketch brings back a memory of the few minutes I spent sketching and listening to Mr. Thoren. He knew so much about every plane on display, I could barely keep up with all the information. He said he flew 24 missions in the South Pacific and kept in touch with his crew for 65 years.
His grandson Jeff e-mailed with the sad news that Mr. Thoren had passed away recently and also sent this photo of him with his crew in the South Pacific (New Guinea.) Click on the photo to view a larger version. Pilot Lt. Colonel James Thoren is in the back row on the left.
Here’s a link to Mr. Thoren’s obituary.
November 11, 2009 at 1:27 AM
Nov. 10, 11:46 a.m. [Click on sketch to see it larger]
We can thank Dick Spady for all the burgers and milk shakes that we can enjoy at his drive-in restaurants in Wallingford, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Lake City and Queen Anne. But being Veterans Day, we should thank him for his service as well.
I met the founder of Seatte’s most famous drive-in Tuesday. He drove his Audi station-wagon to the Wallingford restaurant, where I had just finished a couple of drawings. I sat in the passenger seat to do this sketch and listen to his story. People were already waiting for the drive-in to open at 10.30 a.m. The flow didn’t stop the entire time I was there.
Dick served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 and with the Air Force during the Korean War, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During his WWII deployment in Japan he supervised three warehouses, and was in charge of storing and accounting for the food supply of more than 10,000 troops. “I learned a lot,” he said. “I was only a 2nd lieutenant but I had more responsibility than a college graduate working for a corporation at the same entry level.”
After his service, Dick, who grew up in Portland and is now 86, earned a degree in Business and Technology at Oregon State University in 1950. He explained that his minor in architecture helped when it came time to open the restaurant. For the sign, he first thought of a big rotating milk shake, but “that wouldn’t do anything,” he said. Instead, he chose the current design that still stands tall at N. 45th St.
That’s where the first Dick’s drive-in opened on January 28, 1954. The day after the restaurant opened there was a big snow storm, recalled Dick. “We spent two days shoveling snow.” The restaurant in Capitol Hill opened in 1955. Drive-ins in Ballard, Lake City and Queen Anne, which opened in the 70s, followed.
He said that opening the drive-in was risky. Drive-ins were becoming popular in California, but “Seattle didn’t have many cars and it rained a lot,” he said.
But Dick’s business philosophy has made the 55-year-old restaurant brand a favorite of Seattleites. He said that to build loyalty you have to offer “highest quality, fastest service and lowest price.”
Dick shared a lot of interesting insights about running a business.”Businesses have a responsibility to the common good,” he said. He also told me about his book The Leadership of Civilization Building, and sent me a signed copy by courier later that afternoon. “To Gabi Campanario, The Seattle Times news artist, with warm appreciation, of your sketch of Dick’s drive-in on Veterans Day 2009. Best wishes. Dick Spady.”
After I stepped out of the car and Dick drove away, I joined the line of people at the drive-in and ordered a Dick’s Deluxe, a first one for me.
Thanks for your service Dick, and for the burgers. You have earned another loyal customer.
Note: All day Wednesday, Dick’s drive-ins are providing free burgers to veterans showing their military ID or in uniform.
May 26, 2009 at 10:27 AM
May 25, 1:34 p.m. [View larger]
From Februrary of 2007 to June of 2008 Dexter Holmes, 66, turned a tree stump he found on the road into a memorial to American troops fighting wars overseas. Dexter’s son Brent is currently stationed in Afghanistan and was in Iraq when his dad started working on it. “I did it while I was praying for my son,” he said.
Dexter led yesterday’s Memorial Day Parade in Mill Creek, the first one the city organizes. He came down from Marysville with his neighbor Donald Hendrickson, 86, a World War II veteran who fought in the South Pacific.
I enjoyed talking to both after the parade was over. Don was deployed with the Army from 1943 to 1945. His memories of combat have been coming back recently. “It’s never positive, it’s always negative things you remember.”
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