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I’ve never met anyone who loved the military and our country as much as my father. He was so proud of his service during WWII, despite returning from war an alcoholic. From a very early age, I could see he was struggling.

He was a barber and his hair was always impeccably combed, except for when he was drinking. I remember trying to comb his hair as a little girl because I believed if I combed it, then he’d be sober and everything would be okay.

Our heroes deal with their combat stress differently, but many suffer to some degree and most do so silently. I knew more must be done for the military men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom. There is a saying: “The mission of your life is born out of your suffering.”

In 2006, out of love for my father, I founded Forever Young Veterans to bring honor, healing and hope to his generation and the heroes that followed behind him.

Forever Young Veterans has honored more than 2,300 World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans by granting their individual wishes and returning them to the places where they fought 50, 60, even 75 years ago; places like Normandy, Belgium, Pearl Harbor and Germany.

In these group trips, many of these veterans return to their former battlegrounds alongside other veterans who carry similar experiences. They get to release their pain and they don’t have to do it alone.

Furthermore, these aging heroes get a new picture in their minds of the places and people they fought to liberate. What was once memories of war and death, is replaced with a beautiful, free land and the praise of a grateful people.

They see their sacrifice was worth it and it changes their lives.

“Every single morning when I woke up the first thing on my mind was D-Day,” said 94-year old Vinnie Unger, who landed on Utah Beach in Normandy.

“I lost my best friend that day. Coming back here to Normandy has changed my way of thinking, my perspective is different. The land is at peace, the men who died here are at peace, and now I’m finally at peace.”

We’ve taken 48 Trips of Honor and it’s a joy for us to witness the veterans’ lives change and, in many cases, bring healing and closure to their families also.

Our efforts were halted due to the pandemic. We canceled our Trips of Honor to Germany, South Korea and Washington, D.C., while delaying our trip to Vietnam. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from our heroes, it’s to not give up, but persevere. And we shall, because these heroes deserve to be honored.

Good experiences can change everything about a person. It can help them rewrite the way they understand their past. That’s certainly my story.

For many years, I believed my father had low character because of his addiction. Now I realize he was only looking to numb the pain he endured in war. My father died in 1982. I wish more could have been done for him.

We now have an opportunity to honor those, like my dad, who’ve suffered silently since returning home from war. Together, we can bring them honor for their service, healing from their pain and hope for their future.”

Join Forever Young meetings at 10:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of every month in the Faith Building at Germantown Baptist Church.

The meetings are on hold due to COVID-19, but updates are at foreveryoungvets.org/events or to reach Diane Hight call 901-299-7516 for updates.

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