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Wounded Warriors Conquer Waves

By Howard Hills

There was a lot going on Saturday, Sept. 26.  Farmer’s market, Water District open house on conservation, plus daughters coming to town for the weekend with husbands and dogs.

But service before self, right? So my wife and I were up at first light for dawn patrol to Huntington Beach, where the American Legion, Veteran’s Administration and non-profit Waves of Valor were hosting a surf school for veterans suffering from service injuries and illnesses. We had the honor of sharing the morning in fellowship, food and fun with about 30 veterans who displayed the same indomitable spirit learning to surf that they they showed serving in our nation’s armed forces. About 200 surfers and other volunteers came to support the veterans now fighting to heal and recover from lifelong and in some cases life-threatening medical conditions.

A veteran catches a wave with the assistance of high-profile tutors
Terri Jeffcoat, of Long Beach, a former US Air Force veteran, catches a wave with the assistance of high-profile tutors

Our local Congressman Dana Rohrabacher often asks me to join him as a surf instructor when he takes out-of-town guests down to San Onofre beach for a day of fun in the waves and a sunset cook out. All in all in recent years we have taught the basics of surfing to over 100 people, including members of Congress, governors of other states, members of the German Bundestag, British Parliament and other national legislatures. Then there was the wife of a Russian Army general who was a national women’s track and field champion. After five days under my tutelage surfing up and down the coast, she was an advanced intermediate wave rider.

But no surf session with beginners will ever match Saturday, when I was an instructor on Rohrabacher’s five-man squad joining other instructor support teams to teach these very special veterans to ride waves. From a burly paratrooper whose tattoos told a tale to a petite petty officer in a beach-going wheel chair, each one of these warriors won our hearts by refusing to be defeated by their illness or injuries.  All morning long cheers went up from the beach and coaching teams in the water as wounded and sick warriors overcame limitations and against the odds got on their feet and rode waves for the first time.

Those who could not stand rode waves on their knees or in prone position, and really wowed the crowd.  One veteran who suffers from cancer made Rohrabacher’s team look good by standing up and getting a great ride on her first wave.  After repeat attempts, getting wiped out, needing to rest, then going out again and again, she got seven waves standing up, and on the last wave made it all the way to the beach and jumped off her board onto the sand.

The most moving moment in a day full of powerfully touching scenes happened when Dana and Rhonda Rohrabacher introduced their three 10-year-old children to that courageous young woman with cancer who had just triumphantly rode her last wave up onto the beach.  One of the Rohrabacher daughters, who is herself a cancer survivor, shook the wounded warrior’s hand and thanked her for serving our country. Lost on no one, it was a spontaneous gesture of solidarity and hope from a child who heroically beat cancer to a woman who heroically is determined to do the same.

We all have demands on our time and resources, but no investment of either brings a better return than honoring those who when sent sacrificed to keep us safe and defend freedom.  If you find the time and the means to help our veterans in need you will be glad you did. Last Saturday when we thought it was such a busy day, it turned out we truly had nothing better to do.


The author formerly worked on Rohrabacher’s staff and as legal counsel to the National Security Council and State Department.



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