August 30, 2006

Healing Wounded Hearts

Sag Harbor resident Richard Sawyer, proprietor of Treely Yours, is a Vietnam vet with a mission — he's seeking to establish a fund to honor soldiers whose hearts and lives have been irreparably broken by the ravages of war.

Sawyer has created a card to honor all those who lost their lives on 9/11. Proceeds from the cards, which will be sold to the public, will be donated to a monument honoring all soldiers who have been emotionally wounded as a result of fighting "in all previous wars, and particularly, in the present war in Afghanistan, which was the direct result of terrorist attacks on 9/11," said Sawyer.

The cards, which depict the Twin Towers on the morning before the planes hit, will feature a poem written by Sawyer about his emotions regarding that fateful day:

It Seems Like Yesterday

It seems like yesterday,

When I begin to pray,

For all those brave souls

Who lost their lives on 9/11 . . .

Sawyer said the idea for the poem and monument came after he spoke with fellow Sag Harbor resident Howard Gould, a retired New York City firefighter, about the tragedy of 9/11 and heard about losses sustained by other friends. "All I need is a title and the words just come to me," he said.

His experiences as a point man in Vietnam left Sawyer disabled in body and broken in spirit. "I got out in 1970 and six years later, I started having flashbacks, reacting to loud noises, having nightmares, and suffering from post-traumatic stress. It was terrible — all these things going on in your head. And I had a degree in psychology."

In truth, the condition had been around for many years, said Sawyer, originating during the Civil War, when "it was called soldier's heart. But they couldn't treat it — they had no modalities, no psychiatry, no medicine. Soldiers came home and basically vegetated." Later, soldiers who struggled were labeled with suffering from shell shock during W.W. I, battle combat fatigue in W.W. II, and finally, post-traumatic stress in Vietnam. "It's the same thing, but they keep changing the name."

Four years after being hospitalized for chronic depression, Sawyer said the world began acknowledging post traumatic stress and enabling victims to receive disability. Years later, Sawyer found himself with the need to do something to help comfort other survivors of war.

The idea of a monument, which is tentatively slated for Eisenhower Park in Nassau County but Sawyer would also like to see erected in Washington, D.C., was born after he collaborated with Sag Harbor sculptor Jerry Glassberg on the concept for the sculpture, which Glassberg has named "Soldier's Silent Scream." The figure is a study in pain — a soldier sitting on a wall, his helmet and weapons dropped to the ground. "His hands are over his ears, as if he's trying to shut out the horror of war," said Sawyer.

Sawyer said he's even teamed up with a songwriter, Jerry Bragin, who's penned lyrics based on his poem; the hope is that a big-name recording artist such as Bon Jovi or Billy Joel will one day express interest in recording the piece. Sawyer will also have a radio spot on WLNG to raise awareness.

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