"I've never smiled this much in my life," says Manuel Rodriguez. He and his wife Eleanor are attending the Wounded Warrior Beach Retreat for the first time. The active duty Army soldier says nightmares still haunt him from serving time in three wars. He says, "Maybe people see me with two legs, two arms...but internally, I'm a casualty. I have a tumor in my head...that was created about 5 years ago." Tonight's gathering and the series of events to follow are refreshing. "This is like a renewal of myself," says Rodriguez.
Linda and Phillip Cope founded the Wounded Warrior Beach Retreat 4 years ago after their son was severely injured while serving in Iraq. They say this retreat helps wounded soldiers from across the nation heal.
"When you have 25 warriors talking with 25 warriors and the wives talking together...they say this is better than any psychiatrist. They literally heal each other. And the love and support of the community really does a whole lot to heal them...and give them hope to carry on, make their marriages stronger."
For Lee and Paige Westfall, it's their second retreat and something they look forward to continue doing every year possible. They say it has helped them communicate better in their relationship.
On Thursday, the Wounded Warriors will be escorted by police and helicopters from Panama City Beach to downtown Panama City. Mr. and Mrs. Cope urge the community to line the streets in support of the warriors as they make their way into downtown. The soldiers will make their final stop at the Civic Center in Panama City for an opening ceremony at 7 o'clock. The public is welcome to attend, admission is free.
Check out the map of where they'll be passing through on Thursday, September 13.