At young ages many of us learned very quickly what sacrifice really means. We learned how to be strong, the toughest and the most highly trained defenders in the world, but we also learned how to cry. Our bodies exhausted, dirty, would lurch forward with groans and cries, dried blood on our hands and faces. The blood of our friends and the blood of our enemies. It was hell. But to us, it was also the beginning of a brighter future for America. (Though we didn’t know it at the time.)
Many of us took our blood-stained bodies, broken hearts and missing parts and moved on, we dispersed all over the country and began the long journey of finding others who would understand our sacrifice. A transition from war has no road map or manual to follow. In some ways it was like war, only lonelier because you don’t have your comrades next to you.
Many of us went our separate ways, but life, whether out of necessity or chance, has a way of bringing you to the ones you belong with. Battle buddies find their way back to each other. In my experience the ones that don’t, struggle more.
One man saw this trend and decided to do something about it. Lawrence Doll was injured in Vietnam and noticed that Veterans returning back from war were finding it difficult to begin careers in finance. He decided to take care of that problem and founded Drexel Hamilton, a financial firm on Wall-Street, owned and operated by disabled veterans.
My comrades and I eventually found our way back to each other because of a combat veteran from Vietnam that most of us did not know until we found our way to him. Lawrence Doll provided the space and the opportunity for us to connect, a place for us to learn and grow and use our skills in the financial banking world.
I remember early in my career when I was about to be released from the Army, before I made my case to stay on active duty as a blind man, I went to a job fair with my Army buddy who is my now business partner. I was newly blind, as of about five months and my friend was transitioning out of the Army and joining the civilian world. He was headed to a job fair and knowing my situation asked me to go with him, insert selflessness, here he was trying to find a job in the civilian world after 7 overseas combat deployments, but he was not going to leave a fallen comrade behind. I was hurting, I was lost, I had no idea what my future would hold, but he gave me hope. On our flight, the pilot came on and said that if you look out your window you will see a magnificent sunset over one of the seven wonders of the world, we were flying directly over the Grand Canyon. I remember it like a knife to my stomach, another reminder of what I had lost, I asked my buddy what it looked like. I remember feeling sad and holding back tears, what I did not know was, that he was crying too, he hated that something was taken from me from war. He hurt for me and although he would later tell me it was the most spectacular thing he has seen, he described a few colors to me and said, “ahh man it’s not that spectacular just a big hole in the ground.” I had never seen the Grand Canyon. I bumbled and moped around the job fair and probably lessened his chances of getting a job just as much as mine. We would go our separate ways and each would go through our own struggles, our paths are different but our story is the same.
It brings tears to my eyes to stand with my veteran business partners every day as we work in pursuit of a better life for our families and each other, but today they are not sad tears, they are tears of joy and accomplishment, tears of honor and belief in our sacrifice and service to this great country. You could say collectively together and the journey of Drexel Hamilton is the true picture of the American Dream. Our journey has come full circle and it speaks to the power of selflessness, team, integrity, and success in the face of stressful situations. We are not a group to be pitied, don’t ever feel bad for us, we rise up, we stand together, we beat odds to accomplish impossible tasks.
This is why veterans make the best employees and businessmen and women. This is why Drexel is committed to reaching our hands out and helping others up. As we honor Veterans’ Day I want to challenge American business owners to hire more veterans, to believe in them and provide them opportunity, because they make our communities, country and businesses better, we see this firsthand every day at Drexel Hamilton. Today Drexel employs over 50% veterans, many of them combat veterans and many injured like myself. The street is beginning to notice us and the work we are doing is making a splash. The battles are different, but the unshakable dedication to improving this country, to serving those around us and never leaving a comrade behind is exactly the same.
War is hell but our bond is unbroken.