Strength Beyond Your Imagination

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This blog is based on a true story. However, I hope you won’t mind if I give the gentleman a different name and withhold the name of his organization.

Samuel, “Sam” for short, is a WWII veteran. He is about to celebrate his 93rd birthday, and he has no intention of slowing down. In WWII, he was a bombardier on a B-17, where he and his crew made exceptionally perilous missions over enemy territory. Their usual targets were heavily guarded factories and oil refineries. On the crew’s 17th mission, they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire that wiped out three of four engines and all of the controls.

Sam parachuted over enemy territory. He was to find later out that several of his fellow crew members did not make it out of the flaming and spinning aircraft. He was immediately captured. He could not have gotten very far in that he was burned and injured. He was taken to an interrogation camp and then transferred to a POW camp. The camp, known as Stalag Luft I, was known for its harsh conditions and isolation. The prisoners were all kept near starvation.

Toward the end of the war, the prisoners were loaded onto an old ship and locked in the hold for three days. Then they were put on a forced march of more than 600 miles in the coldest winter Europe has ever known. When the prisoners were finally rescued, Sam weighed about 105 pounds (he had been more than 200), was infested with lice, diseased and injured. After the war, he spent more than a year in Army hospitals trying to recover.


Not Ready to Retire

The “happy ending” part of the story was that Samuel married his high school sweetheart, and they had two children. He found a job working as a sales rep for a high-end furniture manufacturer and over the years worked his way up to National Sales Manager. As long as he kept working and being a husband and father, he kept away his demons. Samuel experienced all of the effects of PTSD. The nightmares and depression could be horrific. He suffered in silence.

The only thing that Sam was able to do to relieve the pain was to volunteer at veteran’s affairs. He worked with men and women who could be less than half his age. Sam got them training and benefits. After he shared with them that he had PTSD, he was invited into group therapy. The WWII veteran found he had much more in common with Iraq and Afghanistan vets than he did with his family and friends.

When Sam turned 75 his company demanded he retire. He didn’t want to do so, but the company felt it was time. They offered him an attractive severance package.

He was at first lost – and very fearful. The nightmares could be awful. Though the group therapy sessions were helping him, he wanted purpose in his life. He was nowhere near retiring in his heart and mind.


A Man of Your Age

One of Sam’s great comforts was that he had two beautiful dogs, a Corgi and a Golden Retriever. They weren’t therapy dogs as such, but they provided him with great comfort. Sam sat in on countless group therapy sessions where the young veterans talked about their struggles with PTSD. They wished that they could find therapy dogs to help them through some of the dark times. There was no money for such dogs, few training programs, and even fewer trainers. This got Sam to thinking. He was a veteran, he loved dogs, and he was a natural salesman.

At the age of 79, he launched a national organization to fund, train and then place therapy dogs in the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD and related disorders free of charge. The federal grants the program has been promised have never come. Instead, Sam “beats the bushes” for donations. At last count, they have trained nearly 100 dogs.

In addition to Sam’s organization and the people he has helped, an important point here is his unwillingness to allow his age to define his purpose. Sam does not think he is at all remarkable. Frankly, people who use expressions such as this put him off: “What you are doing is astonishing for a man of your age.”

If Sam could, he would reach out to everyone reading this post and tell each one of you never to give up. If you have a dream, try to make it happen no matter your age. There is meaning to you and purpose and strength beyond your imagination.


For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.