Nothing Can Prepare You for Losing a Friend to the Unseen Wounds of War
By Christopher Bowers
Hidden wounds take the longest to heal. Of course, we know this. It’s why we founded Leashes of Valor more than six years ago. But knowing a thing — being certain of it — cannot prepare you for losing a friend to the unseen wounds of war we talk so much about.
This week, we hosted the second annual Valor Cup, a golf tournament that raises crucial funds for our mission providing service dogs at no cost to wounded and disabled veterans. During the two-day event each fall, veterans of all generations play against golfers from around the country.
While we dreamed up this event to serve as a flagship fundraiser, we soon learned that it is so much more for the veterans who participate. The Valor Cup provides the camaraderie many haven’t experienced since they left the military and had not expected to find again. A sense of purpose. Teamwork. Belonging.
I like to think this is what Brad Pierce found when he qualified for a spot on our veteran team during the first Valor Cup in 2022. Brad graduated from high school three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Despite offers to play football for colleges, he decided to enlist in the Marines. Like many of our generation, he could not shake a sense of responsibility to his country. Brad deployed three times to Iraq over the next six years, earning two Purple Hearts.
I’ll never forget meeting Brad. He was a beast of a man — in presence and stature but most of all in personality. Brad had a laugh that could fill a room, that could make even the most serious man break out into unadulterated laughter. On the golf course, Brad had one speed — 110%. He loved the game of golf, and I think he was happiest when he was slinging massive draws with his driver. In fact, “He loved golf so much that none of his family or friends would willingly play against him in order to keep our pride,” his obituary would read.
Brad spoke of his wartime injuries matter-of-factly. “I was blown up four times. I didn’t lose any limbs, but I took some shrapnel … In the big picture, I was lucky. I took some bruising on the brain, but physically now, I’m OK,” he said once.
You can be physically OK but not mentally OK. Brad decided to end his pain on Jan. 4, 2023. He was 37 years old.
PTSD is real. Men and women struggle with it daily, often with smiles on their faces. They suffer in silence for fear of being labeled. Sometimes, these hidden battles waged in private become too much to bear.
One of our primary goals at Leashes of Valor is to create an environment in which our warriors feel comfortable sharing their struggles so we can offer support. For many, a service dog is the antidote to that suffering. For others, it is the game of golf.
Providing a way for our veterans to heal is the single most important thing we do at Leashes of Valor. And so it is difficult not to feel as if we failed Brad.
Brad was a friend, a brother, a U.S. Marine, and an ambassador for the game of golf. As we gathered on a chilly autumn morning in Virginia this week to open the second Valor Cup, we keenly felt his absence. We bowed our heads in remembrance. And we went out onto the golf course one man short.
This week, we played for Brad. We played for all those who have lost their battle to the unseen injuries of war. We are thankful for the time we had with him. Our goal is to reach more, find more, and help more of our brothers and sisters who are struggling.
Brad spent only a few months with the Valor Cup, but his impact will always stay with me, like his laughter that lingered in a room long after it grew silent.
If you’re suffering in silence, please know that you are not alone. We’re here to listen and do our best to help. If you need to speak with someone immediately, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 (veterans press 1).
Chris Bowers is a Marine Corps veteran and program director for Leashes of Valor.