Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area hosted 26 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and veterans this week as part of the program Wounded Warriors: Operation Mountain Freedom.
Statistics regarding the number of injured servicemembers returning from abroad exceed 700,000, according to the Wounded Warrior Project. This includes servicemembers now living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries, and a variety of physical disabilities. And that’s just since September 11, 2001.
Roy Cratty, 81, from Paradise, Calif., is a Korean War veteran who participated in this week’s event. He was a Private First Class in the Marine Corps, stationed in Korea for nine months, before stepping on a landmine left him disabled. “We had no Wounded Warriors in Korea. We had no Wounded Warriors in Vietnam. They’d say: ‘Well thank you. You’re out.’ And I think we got $150 as an outgoing bonus,” Cratty said.
Cratty lost his right leg below the knee, and the use of his left hand from extensive nerve damage. The transition back into civilian life seemed easy for Cratty until a few events made him stop and think, “hey, normal people don’t act this way.”
Cratty, along with two other Marines from Korea, went to junior college after leaving the service. “One day we were walking down the hall and in an alcove there were some young kids out there throwing firecrackers. Well, none of us could stand the noise so I stepped on one.” Cratty said. A teacher came out and, thinking Cratty had been the one throwing the firecrackers, grabbed him by the shoulder.
“He made the worse mistake of his life because one of my friends hit him right at the knees, one in the shoulder and he went down on his back and I said, ‘you son of a bitch, you move, you’re dead.’ And that’s when I knew I had something wrong.”
“I mean one time a car backfired and we all three hit the ground in different directions. That’s what these kids are going through,”Cratty said, referring to the service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “They hide it well. We had never heard of PTSD. But that’s what it is. Anybody who has been in combat has it, guaranteed. Even if they think they don’t.”
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that is a result of combat, assault, or disaster. It results in stress reactions that don’t go away over time, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Cratty’s wife, Carole, was also in Mammoth this week. “The hardest thing is for them to recognize they have a problem,” she said. “When I first met him, I asked if he had ever been to counseling. He said, ‘no way. That’s for sissies.’”
Cratty nodded in agreement, but also acknowledged that the sentiment towards counseling has changed drastically since the 50s. “Guys coming out now, they have an advantage that I didn’t have. With the counseling, if they stop and listen to it, not all of them do, but if they stop and listen to it, then they will realize that they do have a problem but it’s not one that is life-changing. They can handle it.”
During this week’s events, Cratty spent most of his time talking to younger wounded warriors. He encouraged them to join associations with their company, regiments or battalions so that they have someone to talk to. Cratty is part of an association with his company from Korea and goes to reunions frequently. “They talk about stuff civilians won’t understand. And mostly they won’t tell civilians that stuff. They don’t tell their families.” Carole said.
“There’s a multitude of degrees of PTSD. Some guys don’t seem affected but then some of the guys are suicidal because they don’t think anybody is listening to them or cares about them. Well this program helps that,” Cratty said, referring to the event this week. “They found here that somebody does care about them. That makes the whole difference right there.”
Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra has been hosting Wounded Warrior events in Mammoth since 2007. Participants this week learned to ski, snowboard, and Nordic ski with the help of over 100 volunteers and the use of specialized, adaptive equipment. The next event is Wounded Warrior: Operation High Altitude in June of 2014. Visit their website to find out how you can contribute to programs for Wounded Warriors.