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Casualties no more

Published 11:51 am Tuesday, May 27, 2014

As that rack of ribs or slab of beef digests in our stomachs today, it was heartening to see a move in pop culture circles to reinforce the reality that Memorial Day was not a day to eat but a day to remember.

Unlike Veterans Day, which honors those who have served in the U.S. military, Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who didn’t make it home from their tours of duty.

What I’ll follow this up with is a bit of rehash from a pair of past stories worth the look back in the red, white and blue glow of an important holiday.

Advances in medical science in the past century, whether in the heat of battle or stateside after the fact, has changed the face of the American military veteran. In a Jan. 10 story in The Vicksburg Post, Dan Fordice, who co-founded the Warrior Bonfire Project several years ago, reminded us of this.

“We lost about 50,000 or 60,000 in Vietnam,” Fordice said to a civic club, indicating later the symbol of subsequent conflicts was not a grave, but perhaps a crutch or wheelchair. “This time, we’re bringing them back wounded due to all our medical successes.”

Emotional wounds are toughest to heal, however. An uncle of mine served in Vietnam with the Marines from 1969 to 1972. I can tell you there were no bonfires or bonding for him. The therapeutic community hadn’t evolved enough by then. Beyond that bit of surface knowledge, he’s just the uncle who went fishing with Dad and me the most. I leave well enough alone and hope God’s grace guides him daily.

The person who has taken up the torch of helping veterans share their experiences with fellow soldiers is Albert Winschel, himself a survivor of gunfire in the battlefield.

The 31-year-old Marine Corps reservist was wounded in 2010 in Afghanistan, where more than 3,000 U.S. service personnel have been killed since 2001 but another 23,000-plus have been wounded.

In April, the Mobile-based 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company honored Winschel as Marine of the Year for his work with the project, which organizes activities for wounded soldiers in relaxed atmospheres. The only requirement for participation is a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat.

This past weekend, Winschel organized a dinner-and-blues event for wounded veterans at Ameristar Casino.

In an interview with him earlier this month, he told me he’s organizing a shopping adventure next month for soldiers’ wives.

His work to put these things together is worth more than a thousand therapy sessions in some sterile environment somewhere.

The point of this is to drive home the point that yesterday’s casualties are today’s patients. They’re patients with wounds you can’t always see. And the professionals who help them don’t walk around in white lab coats, but are every bit as valuable to a healthy democracy.

Danny Barrett Jr. is a reporter and can be reached reached by email at danny.barrett@vicksburgpost.com or by phone at 601-636-4545.