Many of you may not know this, but the Kauai Veterans Council and many caring Kauai businesses and community leaders and members support Vacations for Warriors, a program created by Robert (Bob) DeMonbrun, a Colorado resident, to send men and women wounded in war on vacations to the Hawaiian Islands.
Bob saw the need to send these wounded veterans and their families on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to help heal, physically and emotionally. He receives applications from potential veterans, and with the help of his board, screens each individual application, selecting the veterans that would most qualify and benefit from this program.
Several times a year, Bob and his group of dedicated friends conduct fundraisers and seek donations to raise money to send these veterans on this life-changing vacation. It is usually the first time the veteran and their caregiver have ever had such a break and a chance to relax since being injured.
With the money raised Bob purchases airline tickets for the vets and their families to travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Many airlines have generously donated free tickets and many people donate their unused miles to these veterans. Bob has a timeshare in Princeville that he donates to the visiting veterans.
Kauai businesses and community members have generously sponsored these individuals with hotel stays, activities and meals at local restaurants, so that the visiting veterans have a wonderful time and opportunity to reunite and enjoy their families without the daily stress and challenges they endure back home.
I’ve been so lucky and honored to be part of Vacation for Warriors and received some incredibly touching mahalo letters from our visiting veterans and their families. These vets dedicated their lives, protecting what you and I often take for granted — freedom!
But these vets have another challenge, living with wounds, both physical and emotional, suffered during their tours. They deal with situations most of us would not understand, using all the strength and energy they can to work through life’s challenges, trying very hard to put their lives and their families back on track.
I would like to share two stories. The first family we sponsored was a Marine and his wife. The Marine was severely injured and suffered permanent blindness from an improvised explosive device during his tour of duty. He now has such a positive outlook on life. But that was not always the case.
After his injury, he became hooked on pain medication and alcohol. He was alone and depressed. But I’m convinced God had plans for this veteran. During one of his medical visits he met a Vietnam veteran who had also been blinded decades ago in the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam vet told the Marine to take what God has dealt you and move forward. He said you have all your other senses, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and sharpen your other senses (smell, touch, taste and hearing). He did just that, got married, and started his own rescue-dog program for veterans struggling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
While this Marine was on Kauai, he stayed at the Sheraton Kauai, attended Smith’s Luau, went out on a Kauai ATV tour, and flew around Kauai with Maverick Helicopters — all hotel nights and activities donated free of charge.
After each one of these activities, he would describe what he saw, through hearing, smelling, touching, and of course tasting. Just by listening to him I think he saw a better paradise than what many of us see and take for granted every day.
Another veteran we sponsored was also a Marine who came to Kauai with his wife and two small children. His injuries were even more severe and noticeable. He lost both legs below the knees and his left arm below the elbow. His life after his injuries were doctor visits, doctor visits and more doctor visits, which consumed his family’s life.
This veteran was determined to be independent. While his family was swimming at the Waiohai Bay, about 20 yards from the shoreline, he pulled himself up into his wheelchair, and rolled himself 15 feet in the sand. He then hopped off the wheelchair and started heading to the water.
When he stopped at the shoreline I walked up and asked if he was all right. He said yes, but he was concerned. I asked him what he was concerned about. He said, “look behind me, I left a trail in the sand, like a monk seal, trying to get back to ocean.”
We both had a good laugh. You could tell he was not lacking humor and looked at life with a positive attitude. He swam with his one remaining arm to reach his family and for almost two hours he was in the ocean swimming with his family, treading water using only his right arm. Amazing!
When he returned home, he sent me a letter that started with “BIG THANK YOU”! He stated that this trip gave him the ability to be a father to his kids and a husband to his wife. But the letter finished with him wishing that his brother (also a veteran) had known about this program.
His brother had not been able to handle everything he had faced during his tour in the combat zone. His brother’s injuries were more internal, and he suffered with migraines headaches, TBI, PTSD, and no support group he could turn to. He finally gave up on life! Very sad.
These are just two of the veterans that have visited Kauai in 2019. But there is a common theme. There was 100% satisfaction from the visiting vets and overwhelming gratitude for the wonderful aloha spirit the people of Kauai shared with them. This would not have happened without the tremendous support from the Kauai community, and I would like to recognize many of them:
Sheraton, Poipu; Koloa Landing; Marriott Waiohai; Oasis Restaurant; Plantation Gardens; Maverick Helicopter; Blue Hawaiian Helicopter; Kauai Backcountry Adventures; Kipu Ranch Adventures; Smith’s Luau; Eco Clay shooting; the Mayor’s Office; the Governor’s Office; and our Kauai veterans volunteering hundreds of hours.
Mahalo nui loa and God bless.
Bart Thomas is junior vice commander, Kauai Veterans Center.