LIHUE — Tears flowed from Bermitta Merritt’s eyes and she stopped frequently to wipe them away at the Lihue Airport.
“I thank God for having been selected,” said her husband, James Merritt. “This is something we could never afford.”
The Merritts were being greeted Thursday afternoon by a host of people representing veteran agencies, the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. who proclaimed Thursday as James Merritt Day in honor of the veteran’s service to his country, and his selection of Kauai as his choice of his first dream vacation.
“The DeMonbruns family said they were going to submit my name to the Vacations for Warriors program,” Merritt said.
“I never thought I would be chosen, but I thank God they selected me. This is such an unbelievable experience.”
The DeMonbruns are providing a condominium in Princeville for the Merritts’ one-week stay. In addition to the mayoral proclamation and accompanying gift bag, the Merritts received a gift bag from Michelle Emura of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce’s Military Committee.
Ed Kawamura, commandant of the Kauai Veterans Council, said since Merritt is employed by the Veterans Affairs, he had to get him a Kauai Veterans Affairs bag which overflowed with gifts.
Merritt grew up poor in the rural South, dreaming of buying his mother a home by becoming a National Basketball Association player.
That dream never materialized. Instead, he was drafted in 1968 by the Army to serve in Vietnam.
During his time in combat, he was injured — and lost several of his friends.
“Back then, no one spoke of ‘invisible wounds,’ or PTSD in veterans,” said Lynn Aylward-Bingham, a retired Navy captain. “James’ experience led him to some dark years where drugs, alcohol and imprisonment dominated his life. While he was in prison, he lost twin 20-year-old sons in an auto accident. He leaned heavily on his faith to turn his life around and to find a way to serve.”
Merritt currently works in the PTSD ward at the Veterans Health Center in Denver, spending years counseling and supporting other veterans. His tenure resulted in the creation of an award in his name for those veterans who show extreme progress in their healing and supporting their fellow vets.
“A welcome home for James is long overdue,” Aylward-Bingham said.
The Vacations for Warriors program, sponsored by American Airlines, helps bring Wounded Warriors to locations in Hawaii and other areas, Aylward-Bingham said. Chip Bahouth, general manager for the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu, is also contributing tickets to the resort’s luau for the Merritts’ enjoyment, Aylward-Bingham said.