WASHINGTON – Samantha Nerove is in a smart suit with matching bracelet and a necklace, her hair in a stylish French twist. She doesn’t look like the image many people have of a wounded warrior. She’s not in a wheelchair. She has all her limbs. But she came home a wounded warrior and the PTSD was crippling.
“I was medivac’d in from the old Walter Reed from Baghdad. With severe PTSD. And I was not in good shape. I didn’t know if I could get through each day. I couldn’t see through the next day and next week wasn’t even on my horizon. I didn’t eat with people, I didn’t want to be around people. I would go into the dining facility, get my food to go, take it out to my car, sit in my car and eat it,” Nerove says.
But she noticed that every Friday, a group of musicians, a trio playing stringed instruments came to play.
“I would walk out,” she says. And Nerove made an unnerving discovery. She had no recall of music. She could enjoy it when it was played in front of her but ask her to hum a tune and she couldn’t do it.
“I couldn’t hear music in my heart or my soul … the music was gone.”
Nerove takes a moment to collect herself, but the tears well up in her eyes.
“One of the things that had been destroyed by the rockets and the bombs and the bullets and the bodies was music. It had been blown out of me mentally,” she says.
Ginger Hildebrand, one of the musicians with Trio Galilei understands that.
“When people like that close their eyes, sometimes all they hear is gunfire. So what we try to do is give them something to focus on that’s nice and relaxing instead of that,” says Hildebrand. And after five years of playing for the wounded warriors, first at Malone House at the Old Walter Reed Medical Center and now at Naval Support Activity Bethesda – the home of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – the musicians were being recognized.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot made the presentation of the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for Montgomery County.
“In appreciation for your tireless commitment to our nation’s wounded warriors and to their families. The often elusive comfort and solace your music provides these young men and women is inspirational with my sincerest wishes for continued success,” he says.
Carolyn Surrick, who plays the viola da gamba (think a tiny cello or a viola on steroids) accepted the award.
“The idea was not to change the world by millions of people at a time, it was really to change the world by one person at a time. And we felt if we had made one person’s day better that day, we had succeeded,” Surrick says.
Hildebrand, who plays guitar and violin, says they have made friends along the way and they feel the ups and downs of the wounded warriors they play for. “It’s not a tearless endeavor. It really rips your heart out at times,” says Hildebrand. But there are rich rewards.
“We’ve been told many times that the work they’ve done on CD has allowed people to sleep,” she says.
And while most musicians might be stung by that, Hildebrand says that of course is the intent, to provide soothing, calming and relaxing experiences. It is not a party CD.
For Nerove, the wounded warrior, the music on that CD, and the weekly visits, proved healing.
“Out of the blue one day, I just started humming a tune. They brought the music back,” Nerove says.