Brandon Levesque of Bad Yard Art adds detail to a bear carving made for tornado victims. (Robert Zollna | Kitsap Daily News)

Brandon Levesque of Bad Yard Art adds detail to a bear carving made for tornado victims. (Robert Zollna | Kitsap Daily News)

Different tragedies, same heartache: helpers begin healing process

For many veterans who have experienced the many traumas of combat, recovery often means the long, painful process of rehabilitation from drug and/or alcohol abuse or from physical or mental problems caused by the sights, sounds or smells one experiences in war.

Ken Bicha

Ken Bicha

By sharing a non-combat event in allegorical fashion, I want to show those of us who were injured in a variety of ways that there are positive things to give us hope.

On Dec. 18, 2018, a tornado with 130 mile-per-hour winds tore through part of our little town of Port Orchard, tearing roofs off houses and falling numerous trees. The area — part of a modest housing development — looked like Ground Zero of a bomber attack, minus the craters.

First responders quickly closed the area to traffic as firefighters searched for a gas leak and helped evacuate residents. Puget Sound Energy workers shut off the power and started repairing and replacing power lines and poles. Their efforts could be compared to the battlefield, where a medic or your buddy works feverishly to stop the bleeding and by enlisting various life-saving battleground procedures.

The next day and for weeks to come, community volunteers organized and started to clean up and dispose of debris. Authorities tagged houses as dangerous or unlivable, which prevented some residents from entering their homes. Volunteer groups, nonprofit organizations and churches scrambled to provide food, clothing and shelter for the victims. One cafe gave out free meals for several weeks. Chainsaw wood carvers fashioned bears and other animals out of stumps and large chunks of tree trunks.

The battlefield analogy comes from time spent in field hospitals, where caring and dedicated medical personnel cleaned our wounds, sewed us up, removed metal objects in our bodies or even limbs — whatever it took to keep us alive.

Some of the residents have repaired their homes and returned to restart their lives. They struggle to make their houses seem like homes again. Their friends and neighbors joined forces to help them accomplish this goal. Families looked out their windows and watched volunteers cutting up trees to make firewood, which they then donated to the local food bank — providing a heat source for those who are less fortunate.

This was their way of saying “thank you” as they paid it forward.

For our returning service men and women, this is the beginning of a homecoming, supported by family, friends and, of course, medical personnel. As they learn how to use prosthetic limbs, cope with PTSD and/or TBI, navigate the health care system and negotiate lost-family status, they are haunted by thoughts of lost comrades and those close companions who are still in-country. Their hearts ache, but often nothing helps.

As the tornado ripped its way across an empty field, it toppled a large evergreen tree that was about two feet in diameter. Some of that tree became bears the carvers had created. For some unknown reason, one of the property owners pulled the 14-foot stump upright in the same spot where the majestic tree once towered over the empty field.

The tree stands straight and proud, and like some of us, it doesn’t have limbs. It has been near death, but it has survived. This tree is not as magnificent as the World War II or Korean War memorials, or the Vietnam Wall, but when I drive by it, I render a salute with the same reverence and respect that I feel when I pass and salute the Gold Star banners in our community.

It represents a symbol of hope as these victims from different tragedies each takes their own journey on a personal, lonely road to recovery.

Ken Bicha, a longtime Port Orchard resident, is an Eagles Club member, Port Orchard Man of the Year and community volunteer. He occasionally writes a column for the Independent.