Sat10252014

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Church's film screening reveals wounded veterans' struggles and triumphs


Courtesy of Didrik Johnck
A group of wounded Afghanistan and Iraq war vets scale the 20,000-foot Mount Lobuche in Nepal, chronicled in the movie “High Ground.”

Two members of Christ Episcopal Church in Los Altos decided to honor American military veterans by showing a movie, of all things.

Church Deacon Lauren McCombs and longtime Los Altos Hills resident Christopher Smith hosted a screening of the documentary “High Ground” for approximately 100 church members and local residents last week at the church’s parish hall. The award-winning 90-minute film depicts the struggles and triumphs of 11 wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and one Gold Star mother as they climb to the summit of the 20,000-foot Mount Lobuche in Nepal.

The Nov. 6 screening at the church, held partially in honor of Veterans Day, ended with a brief panel discussion that included two military veterans, Smith and one of the film’s cinematographers, Oracle Corp. Senior Producer John von Seeburg.

McCombs said she had the chance to view the film – now available on Netflix – earlier this year and walked away inspired, wanting to share its messages with others. Specifically, she pointed to the detailed accounts in the film of the 11 veterans overcoming physical obstacles – such as amputations – as well as mental hurdles like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries to achieve their feat together. McCombs added that the film also offers stark reminders about the troubles some veterans face as they transition back into civilian life.

“I’m a pacifist, I need to say that to start, but I believe in our nation and I believe in those people who have served in the wars,” McCombs said. “I believe we need to support them when they come back.”

McCombs later added that the veterans’ experiences – what happened in the war and how they got wounded – made a profound impression on her.

“For me, that’s the part I recognize where we as a nation need to step forward and help transition them back,” she said.

Invisible wounds

East Bay native von Seeburg told the Town Crier he was thankful his employer, Oracle, gave him the time off to join the Nepalese expedition and film the veterans in action. Von Seeburg added that the veterans and film crew experienced “a really intense, emotional experience – and it wasn’t on the summit.”

“It was all of the things that happened day-to-day in our interactions with these guys that actually were the most meaningful,” von Seeburg said. “A lot of barriers were broken between us as filmmakers and them as soldiers. When you think about it, it’s really courageous for them to tell their stories on camera.”

Von Seeburg said the experience gave him a new appreciation for Veterans Day. He hopes the film spreads awareness about the debilitating issues some veterans face as they return home from war.

“It changed me – definitely did,” he said. “I came back understanding that some of the worst wounds are the ones you can’t see – it’s the hidden, invisible wounds that are some of the worst and the hardest to recover from. I never really understood that or knew that.”

A ministry to veterans

Smith, an 11-year U.S. Navy veteran and 40-year Los Altos Hills resident, noted that Christ Episcopal Church and its members are no strangers to military veterans issues. Smith and a group of church members supply pasta dinners once a month to recovering veterans and their families at the Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center.

“The challenges that they face, I’m just so impressed with them and their families,” Smith said. “You’re looking at a guy and you see that his wife is actually feeding him and you just think, ‘Wow, these people have a long, uphill climb.’ We really owe them a lot.”

In addition, five members of the church – including McCombs – cook dinner monthly for the families of veterans living at The Fisher Houses associated with the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto. The living facilities offer families a place to stay while veterans receive medical treatment at the hospital.

“We sit down with them, talk to them and offer them a meal. … It adds some normalcy to what they’re experiencing,” said McCombs, adding that the church also hosts an annual Valentine’s Day dinner and dance to raise funds for veterans at the hospital.

For more information, visit highgroundmovie.com.

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