Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise share part of Earl and Joe Granvilles' story during the 2013 concert.
When the story of me and my twin brother Joe was told on the National Memorial Day Concert, it was so powerful. To hear Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise act the whole thing out, it gave me confidence to share my story. I thought to myself, “How can I use this to help others?”
Now I speak about mental health in front of military members and people in general. It is a huge issue that society is facing. My story on the concert ends when Joe passes away by his own hand. It doesn’t talk about anything after. But that’s the tragedy – that when Joe made this decision in his life, it was permanent. When we get like that, we have to know there is something else out there to help us get better.
I feel like when our military members leave the military, they lose that sense of purpose. A lot join when they’re 18, so most of their adult life is in the military and when they get out, there is a huge, huge transition and they say, “What do I do now?” We get a little lost in our path of life and there is nothing wrong with getting an extra push. In the military, there is this idea that it makes you look weak if you ask for help. Some of us – depending on what we were doing over there – were put in a very extraordinary situation that most human beings won’t experience. Some of it can feel catastrophic and we might need a healthy pick-me-up to get back on track. It’s a double-edged sword, because we’re taught – mission first, mission first – suck it up and drive on – and that’s what makes us such a valuable fighting force. But I feel like when we come home, we are still in that mode. We need to turn that switch off and say, “I’m home now; what is my new mission?” For myself, my passion is talking about Joe’s passing. Someone’s new mission could be just getting help. It takes some type of pick-me-up to find that new purpose – find that new passion and swallow your pride. There is nothing wrong with it.
One of the things that got me on a healthy path was what I learned after Joe passed. People said, “Joe talked so much about you, and how you don’t let your amputation slow you down,” because I started to snowboard again and introduced myself to new sports like sled hockey. He was very proud of my situation and how I was living my life. But after he passed, I was living with a lot of guilt. I was living a very unhealthy life and I was hurting people that I cared about. It took me a while to realize that his passing wasn’t anybody’s fault at all – that I didn’t cause Joe to do what he did. I just didn’t see it coming. I thought, “If Joe was proud of me then, would he be proud of me now in this low state that I am at?” That helped me change. I thought, “If he is looking at me right now, I am going to start doing things that would make my brother proud.” So I started challenging my disability even more and was introduced to CrossFit and started doing obstacle races. I’m a member of Operation Enduring Warrior and I’m an ambassador for Oscar Mike. I also play sled hockey for the USA Warriors as a center even though I’m the worst guy on the team.
My whole attitude now is I want to inspire people now like I inspired my brother. But I want to do more than that. One of my messages is, “If I am inspiring you, you have to inspire someone else.” I found a cinder block before a race once – a Warrior Dash where me and my buddies were covered in chains and wearing masks and having fun out there. I took one of the chains I was wearing and chained the cinder block to myself and finished a race with it. So I thought, “I want to make a goal to complete the whole race without putting the block down.” People kept saying, “Why are you carrying the block?” The whole idea of “Cindy the cinderblock” is that it represents the heavy weight, the mental adversity that stops us from enjoying life and doing things we once loved to do. When I do races with the cinder block, I never carry it alone. When I run with friends, everyone wants to help carry that weight. It’s the same thing with mental adversity. You never have to carry it alone. There are people out there who are willing to help. Whether it’s family, counselors or friends, there is help out there. You never have to face it alone.
It all starts with the person who is struggling. They have to swallow their pride and get help. But who do they go to? I was going to a Vet Center – all the counselors are veterans. In my experience, it all starts there. It’s not a black and white answer, because everyone is wired different. What could help me get back on my path could hurt someone else and vice versa so you have to be patient. But you also have to get out of your comfort zone a bit too. Because stepping out of your comfort zone could get you to live that healthy life again – you just don’t know it yet. That’s what it was like for me. I didn’t think I’d be this active again, but going down that road was what got me where I am today.
When I speak in front of audiences, I play the video from the National Memorial Day Concert and then I come out and say, “You guys done crying yet?” It always gets a little bit of a chuckle because it is a dark and dreary story. But I show up on stage with a smiling face and joking around and saying, “Life is good. Quit giving me pity. Let me talk to you about how I overcame this. I am just replaying this to give you an idea of what helped me when I was struggling after Joe passed away. If I overcame this, anyone can. You just have to find your purpose. You have to find your new passion.”
Veterans from all wars are dying by suicide on an average of 22 per day. Yet depression and PTSD are treatable illnesses. If you are, or know of someone who is, experiencing the symptoms of emotional distress please reach out to one of the many people and organizations who can help. Remember, you never have to be alone. And if your distress leads to thoughts of suicide, immediate help is available.
1-800-273-TALK and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Earl Granville is a public speaker who addresses issues related to combat stress. He medically retired from the Pennsylvania National Guard holding the rank of Staff Sergeant. During his time in the service, Earl earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He’s currently a senior at the University of Scranton for Counseling & Human Services. In addition to Operation Enduring Warrior and Oscar Mike, he is also involved with Achilles Wounded Team Veterans, 22Kill and Team Some Assembly Required.