Pa. ski resort welcomes wounded warriors
When an airline attendant on a recent flight asked passengers to give uniformed soldiers on board a round of applause, Charlie Dunn found it haunting.
It was a different reception from the one he recalled when he returned home from Vietnam decades ago.
“At that time, we were not welcomed back,” said Dunn, 65.
The Lewisberry, York County, man is one of 11 soldiers and their families who are staying at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, near Champion, until Thursday.
Their visit is sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Patrol. The Carlisle nonprofit's mission is to support wounded soldiers and their families using the recreational therapy of snow sports.
Assisted by about 60 volunteers, including instructors from Three Rivers Adaptive Sports, the soldiers have spent several days skiing and snowboarding on the Somerset County slopes. With their families, they have enjoyed bowling, crafts and visits to the spa.
They traveled from counties in the eastern part of the state, Georgia, Virginia, Illinois and Maryland.
Some have physical injuries; others have struggled with traumatic stress.
“We have three sit-skiers,” said Mark Kendrick, board member and event coordinator.
Sit skis are molded seats mounted on metal frames, usually equipped with a single ski and outriggers (ski poles).
“The snow is one place where gravity is their friend,” said Chris Raup, 44, Wounded Warrior Patrol CEO.
Raup, a retired National Guard major and Carlisle financial adviser, founded Wounded Warrior Patrol three years ago after seeing a similar program in Colorado.
It is not associated with the Wounded Warrior Project.
Many members are current or former National Ski Patrol volunteers. Fundraisers pay for the soldiers' transportation costs.
Seven Springs is providing the families' lodging, equipment, lift tickets and some meals on what Raup said is the second annual visit to the resort.
“It's a small opportunity for us and the resort to say thank you to wounded warriors. It is an opportunity to build a memory, have some time with their families,” said Bob Nutting, resort president.
Dunn, a retired electrician, said when he left Vietnam he put the experience behind him.
“My kids, my wife, they still don't know some of the bad stuff. I would wake up at night, have sweats, nightmares,” he said.
Dunn, who suffered shrapnel wounds in one attack, kept busy with coaching youth sports and with the ski patrol.
“This (getaway) is, by far, the nicest thing I think has happened to me as a Vietnam vet,” he said.
Virginia resident Dan Sheehan, author of “After Action — A True Story of a Cobra Pilot's Journey,” planned to speak at Tuesday night's banquet.
Sheehan, 38, a stay-at-home dad and writer, served 12 years active duty with the Marines, including two tours of duty in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
His personal decorations include the Bronze Star and two Individual Action Air Medals for valor in combat.
A board member and former squadron mate told him about the Wounded Warrior Patrol.
Chatting with other soldiers helps them understand that they are not alone, he said.
“We want to start this conversation on a deeper, personal level. I don't think it is melodramatic to say it can save lives,” Sheehan said.
Although he suffered no physical combat wounds, Sheehan said he did not unpack the emotions that accompanied him home.
Sheehan said he suffered post-traumatic stress, although he was not diagnosed.
“But I was far from OK,” he said.
Writing the book was therapeutic, he said, enabling him to relive his combat experiences in a safe environment.
Raup said the organization received almost 40 applications this year.
“We look for a nice mixture of warriors, those with physical challenges, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries,” he said.
“With today's conflicts, people are coming home with injuries they would not have survived 15, 20 years ago. They need more support. I don't believe our Veterans Administration system is set up for that. They are getting better. That is what we are here for — support,” Raup said.