It's a smile that doesn't come easily for Charles Quigley. At least not lately, not since he served in the Army Infantry in Iraq. But for at least an hour, Quigley and nine of his fellow veterans had the rare opportunity to swim with the dolphins at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
"I didn't want to come, I wanted to isolate today," said Quigley. "But getting out here, doing this, it's amazing. Really a joyful day."
The men are all in a residential treatment program called "The Pathway Home" at the veteran's hospital in Yountville. They all have either post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, "There is this sort of cloud of hopelessness that sort of hovers over them," said Fred Gusman with the Pathway Home. "And a lot of that has to do with they don't know how to decompress. They don't know how to be or see a future."
The goal of the program is simple -- to help these guys let go of their anxieties and learn how to relax again, "Learning how to relax and interact with the community in positive way," said combat veteran Daniel Craig. "And learning how to be a civilian again, and you know, know that life's not all bad."
Bringing the vets to Six Flags was Muriel Snyder's idea. She's a volunteer with The Pathway Home, who happened to swim with the dolphins for her 90th birthday, "These fellas need this," Snyder said. "They need to get away from all their horrible dreams and experiences. Just look at their faces. I get all emotional."
Beyond the smiles, this is also about creating new memories to replace those other terrible images these men are working so hard to forget, "I'm never going to forget this," Craig said.
The Pathway Home is a non-profit and could use any and all donations. Click here for donation information.
For admission information:
The Pathway Home
Fred Gusman, Exec. Director
P.O. Box 3930
Yountville, CA. 94599