Pilgrimage of Remembrance and Healing

Originally posted August 9, 2010

“Part of what’s in a pilgrim’s heart is this longing for more in life and the idea of being on a journey,” says Randy Haycock, a chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who leads monthly pilgrimages to Washington National Cathedral for Walter Reed’s Warrior Transition Brigade. Produced and edited by Patti Jette Hanley.


CHAPLAIN RANDY HAYCOCK (Walter Reed Army Medical Center): Certainly the idea of pilgrimage is common to many faith traditions, as well as just to human experience. Part of the pilgrimage experience, and a lot of what we do at Walter Reed, is to help people again reconnect with what it means to be a safe, whole, healthy human being.

Speaking in Cathedral: Just relax and try and be in the present moment.

One of the questions that a lot of warriors have when they come to Walter Reed is what’s my life for? They’re looking for a sense of purpose and meaning, and that’s sort of the idea behind the life journey exercise at the beginning is to just get them to stop and reflect a little bit about their life. It’s become for me a kind of metaphor for life itself—that really we’re all on journeys and learning how to deal with things like loss and the horror of engaging in war.

Speaking in Cathedral: Many warriors tell me that they sometimes feel guilty that their friend had died and they hadn’t.

I think that’s part of what’s in a pilgrim’s heart. There’s this kind of longing for more in life, and the idea of being on a journey with someone else is something that people get well in military life, because your life depends on the people around you. You gotta know people have your back.

Speaking in Cathedral: We’ll walk this way and go into the War Memorial Chapel.

The War Memorial Chapel where they have the opportunity to talk about how their own journey intersected with the journey of their friend and basically just to do some grief work, and telling the story is an important part of healing in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pilgrim-Soldier: It was like losing a brother, losing, you know, a family member, and that’s just always kind of haunted me.

Thousands of people have come into that little piece of geography to remember their war dead. So I think there is a kind of energy field here that, you know, I could come and just bring soldiers into that space and say “blah blah blah” and something would still happen simply because of the prayers and tears and, you know, heartfelt emotions that others have let loose in that place.

The next step is to gather around the High Altar, and then using that [Eric] Clapton song [“Tears in Heaven”] — there couldn’t be a better song written for warriors, because many of them feel like what’s the sense of going on?

Speaking in Cathedral: We’ll call off the names of those we have come to remember…

Pilgrim-Soldier: Lance Cpl. Joseph Jose Gutierrez…

Concluding the way the army ordinarily does with coming to attention, calling off their names, sounding taps helps them to make a letting go of their friend so that they can get on the with the rest of their life.