'We are not broken'; Bronze Star recipient speaks at Appomattox Veterans Day ceremony
Dozens gathered outside the American Legion in Appomattox Monday for a Veterans Day to remember.
Taps sounded from a bugle, a WWI cannon fired a ceremonial shot, and the audience sat in silence as Command Sgt. Major Gretchen Evans (retired) shared her story from a podium.
"It is a story that thousands could tell. I just happen to be the one here telling it," said Evans.
Evans, a Bronze Star recipient, served in the US Army for 27 years. She said that when she entered the army, she knew that she was risking a lot.
"When you become a person in service, when you raise your hand, you know your life is going to change," said Evans.
For Evans, the change came in 2006. She said she was visiting soldiers at a base in Afghanistan. Minutes after she landed, they were attacked. Mortar fire rained down on them.
"When a mortar round comes in, it embeds itself into the earth and then it detonates and it is a sound you will never forget," said Evans. "And then it sucks all of the oxygen out of the air and then it explodes. When it does, it throws dirt and rocks and shrapnel and people."
That blast killed the two soldiers standing with Evans that day. It threw her into a concrete bunker, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and complete hearing loss. When Evans woke up and learned of her injuries, though, being deaf was not her greatest concern.
"What kicked me in the gut and what brought me to my knees that day was the thought that I could no longer serve shoulder to shoulder with my soldiers," said Evans. "That I couldn't continue to fight for my country."
Evans suffered from PTSD for years after retiring from the army. It was a difficult transition, but she eventually found a new job and later received a hearing support/service dog that she loves. She now travels the country helping her fellow vets.
"I don't have regrets. It happened and it changed the trajectory of my life, but I have taken what was meant for bad and hopefully have turned it to good," said Evans.
On Veterans Day, a day meant to honor Evans and all other veterans, she said the most meaningful way to honor them is to remember that their injuries and experiences do not define them.
"We are not broken," said Evans. "Things have happened to us, but we are not broken. I think giving us the opportunity to show you that is the best way to say thank you."