Veterans reflect on 30 years of fellowship at Salvation Army Camp Tecumseh
By Hugo Bravo
This month, The Salvation Army celebrated its 30th summer welcoming veterans and their families to Camp Tecumseh in Pittstown, NJ. At this five-day yearly retreat, veterans can enjoy time with fellow vets, heal through group therapy, and even develop or restrengthen their own connection with the Lord. Just like the traditional summer camp experience for children, they can also participate in activities such as foot races, swimming, sports, and much more.
“The Salvation Army knows that most veterans can’t afford a vacation for themselves or their families, and this camp gives them that,” says Vietnam veteran Charles Ingram. “Here, you can do a lot, but above all, you can be part of a fellowship. Some vets with issues feel more relaxed when they see others relaxed. That allows them to finally open themselves to others.”
“Veterans are usually retired and at home with not much to do. But when they come out here, they see that they can enjoy life just like everyone else. They don’t have to isolate and be alone all day. A veteran by him or herself is in bad company,” says Charles.
Retired U.S. Air Force veteran Tracey Gilliam has been coming to the Salvation Army Veterans Camp in Camp Tecumseh for 27 years. He remembers seeing the campgrounds grow from unpaved roads and old tents into what it is today.
“There are guys who grew up in cities like Newark who have never held a fishing pole in their life, but here, they can try fishing together,” says Tracey. “On days in camp where I felt my PTSD was rougher, I would walk to the space under the camp tabernacle, overlooking the lake, and just sit and stare at the water, mesmerized. Those negative feelings would just melt away. It’s nature’s therapy,” says Tracey.
Tracey says that the Salvation Army doing this for vets in the name of Christ and that has a special effect on the men and women who come here. “There are vets who come to service that haven’t been to church in years, but they want to participate here because it’s such a welcoming environment,” says Tracey.
“A lot of us don’t always get the recognition for the sacrifices we made not just during service, but also afterwards. But here, we meet so many people that appreciate us and go the extra mile for us. It’s like we’re part of a new family,”
Veteran Robert Lee started coming to the camp seven years ago. A naturally competitive person, participated in sports while in the military, running track and field. Now in his eighties, he cherishes coming to camp and seeing others be as active as he was. He even looks forward to participating in easier-paced events like fishing and horseshoes, with his 12-year-old grandson cheering him on.
“Here, we’re cut off all the nonsense from the outside world. It’s nothing but love,” says Robert. “Finding this camp has been the luckiest break in the world for me. It was like discovering Shangri-La!”