As Memorial Day weekend approaches and we make plans to celebrate with family and friends, there are so many who will not be celebrating. They will, instead, be visiting Arlington Cemetery and hundreds of other cemeteries across the country where their loved ones, who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, have been laid to rest.
And then there are the “lucky ones” who made it home.
[youtube U4LKNoMzzFA Healing Waters by Lisa Mei and BigDawg]
Some homecoming. They returned to a country that is struggling with sky-rocketing fuel and food prices, out-of-control government spending, record deficits, high unemployment rates, record home foreclosures, businesses going under, and the ever-increasing government intrusion into our private lives. These heroes, our wounded active duty military members and veterans, have the added struggle of trying to muster the will and courage to press on with their lives as they suffer in silence not only from their physical impairments but from the never-ending nightmares, anger, loneliness, guilt, depression, and a number of other gut-wrenching emotions — all of which are triggered by and attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Thankfully, there are caring organizations that understand what our battle-scarred warriors are going through and are actively engaged in helping them begin the healing process. One such organization is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc (PHWFFI).
Project Healing Waters was founded in 2005 at Walter Reed Medical Center by US Navy Captain Retired Ed Nicholson and assists in the physical and emotional therapy of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying classes and outings. It has experienced unprecedented growth and success over the last five years because of its profound effect on the participants and their well being.
I first heard about this amazing program on Real American Stories about a year ago. As fate would have it, I was invited to sing the National Anthem at a local campaign event and one of the organizers, Ann Erickson, whose husband is involved with PHWFFI, approached me afterward and said she loved my voice and wanted to know if I wrote any of my own songs. I told her I did. She asked if I had ever heard of Project Healing Waters and I told her I had seen the program featured on television recently. She then asked if I’d be willing to write a song for them and, of course, I told her I would be honored to do so.
That same night, I wrote the first draft of the lyrics and created a rough track. I recorded a quick vocal with the track and sent it off to my song-mate, Drew (a.k.a. BigDawg – a retired Marine Corps Captain). After he and I went back and forth with the lyrics and the music track and got it sounding the way we both wanted it, we finished the song Healing Waters.
I sent it to PHWFFI founder, Captain (ret) Ed Nicholson, and he loved it so much that he created a DVD with our video which he uses in his presentations when pitching the program to VA Hospitals across the country. It warms our hearts to know some of the volunteers and wounded warriors are giving out copies of our video to those who donate to PHWFFI. We are thrilled to be able to help out in a small way.
Last summer I had the great honor of being invited to perform our song at a Maryland Blue Crabs baseball game from which a portion of the ticket sales benefited PHWFFI. I was also invited to perform at their Annual 2-Fly Tournament just a couple weeks ago after which I was approached by Sergeant Christopher Maschi, who was wounded in action overseas and is combating the effects of PTSD. He asked me if I wrote Healing Waters and told me the first time he heard that song about a year ago, it moved him deeply. He said:
I don’t know how you did it, but you get it…you really captured what we go through in that song. So many people have no idea what it’s like for us but your song says it all…and gives us hope.
That right there is why BigDawg and I do what we do.
While at the 2-Fly, I also met filmmakers Steven and Russ Hasty who were there filming the tournament, interviewing the wounded warriors taking part, and the PHWFF staff and volunteers for their project Healing Waters – “a feature length documentary film about the inspirational wounded warriors of Project Healing Waters.”
Here is what Steven has to say about the project (from his KickStarter project page):
Healing Waters is the uplifting story of the resilient and inspirational recovering active duty military service members and veterans of Project Healing Waters. The film will provide an inside look at the organization’s roots, profile the founder, participants, and volunteers as well as document its astonishing growth and powerful results in transforming the hearts and lives of some of our Nations Finest.
Three years ago I was filming a television show in Virginia and attended a Project Healing Waters outing on the Rose River. That was the first time I saw these incredible soldiers taking part in this innovative program. I was fascinated as I watched these wounded warriors, some of whom had just returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of them veterans of Vietnam, as they made their way into the water on crutches, carried by volunteers, and even in wheelchairs to fish the Rose. There were amputees and many bearing the scars and the trauma of roadside IEDs using improvised devices to hold fly rods in place and even a young Sergeant who had lost his arm using his teeth to retrieve the line. I witnessed the positive change in their mood and demeanor as they lost themselves in Mother Nature. I was both moved and inspired…
Healing Waters will be the first official documentary film of the group, which has been profiled on ESPN and CNN. We are currently in pre-production on the film and are coordinating with the staff of Project Healing Waters to begin filming their classes and outings early this summer. I will spend the next year traveling to VA hospitals and clinics across the US where more than 100 chapters of the project have taken root to record the compelling stories of the participants and volunteers and the impact Project Healing Waters has had on them.
Our goal is to complete the film by the end of next summer to meet the submission deadline for the Sundance Film Festival.
Let me begin by saying that I have not or will not take money from Project Healing Waters to produce this film…and the awesome Project Healing Waters backer incentives I am offering will be purchased from them by me.
The money I raise on Kickstarter will go directly toward production costs on the film. I am an experienced outdoor television producer who knows how to operate on a tight budget. The funds will cover necessary travel and hotels to film interviews and outings at VA Hospitals across the United States (I am no Prima Donna…if there are couches to crash on or meals to share so I can cut costs then I am there). Additional costs will include but not be limited to production assistance from camera and sound men, lighting, music licenses, post production work including film editing, sound, and color correction, film prints and DVDs…I have a deep respect for this group and I aim to produce a quality film.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T REACH OUR GOAL?
If we don’t raise our goal, we don’t get anything. Donors pledge the amounts, but don’t actually pay until the goal is reached and the funding deadline has passed. We want to avoid this so please spread the word. Everything helps!
I know many of you Big Hollywood readers love and support our troops and have either served in our Armed Forces yourselves or have a loved one who has served or is currently serving. I hope you will kindly consider supporting this wonderful project that will benefit our fellow Americans who put their lives on the line for our freedom.
Time, unfortunately, is running out to raise the money needed to complete the project by next summer. This project will only be funded if at least $48,000 is pledged by Monday Jun 13, 11:43am EDT. As I write this article, they currently have 65 backers who have pledged $13,141 with only 24 days to go.
I am certain that if we all help spread the word about this project, they will be able to meet their goal.
All you need to do is read some of the testimonials to see how PHWFFI has touched the lives of our wounded veterans:
“You (PHWFF) have offered me another avenue to continue recovering physically and emotionally. I thank you for what you have offered me. Please keep up the good work.” ~ A Maine Veteran
“I can’t even begin to explain how I feel about PHWFF/Volunteers and if I do I usually get choked up and my eyes get misty. Thank you, everybody, from the bottom of my heart for caring enough to volunteer and be involved.” ~ A Maine Veteran
“It really raised my self esteem, and it felt like I could do something, because lots of time we’re told we can’t do anything because we’ve got a mental illness.” ~ A California Veteran
“For my mind, it gives me energy, gives me the feeling of freedom that I never had before and also gets me closer to my kids.” ~ A California Veteran
“PHWFF helped in getting my head together during my recovery at Walter Reed. It was the perfect outlet for me while I was trying to adjust to my injuries and was a great help in broadening my horizons, giving me the hope and confidence that, no matter what my disabilities, I could still achieve and enjoy the activities of the outdoors and accomplish what I wanted to.” ~ SGT, USA, Walter Reed PHWFF wounded warrior
“As a Vietnam veteran myself who never felt quite welcome when I came home, I must tell you that I will never forget the tears streaming from the eyes of an amputee of the same era as he thanked me for the experience he was given on the East Outlet of the Kennebec River and Maine’s Moosehead Lake by the citizens of nearby Greenville, Maine, who spared no efforts or expense to host 9 veterans from Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, Maine. “You know”, he said, “this is the first time I really felt my sacrifice was appreciated. They were wonderful to us and I never knew that I could actually fly fish again, as I did when I was young.” ~ A Maine Volunteer and Veteran
“Project Healing Waters saved my life…it saved me…it brought me back from a very deep and dark place…” ~ Army Captain Retired Eivind Forseth, one of the first participants of Healing Waters
A truly worthy project…and every bit helps.
Have a safe and blessed Memorial Day weekend with your loved ones and please keep our troops in your prayers.