Traditionally, the British royal family have been the model of composure and decorum but times have changed. Following the introduction of the late Princess Diana, the monarchs became more relatable. It’s no surprise that even years after her death, her sons continue to demonstrate their ability to be vulnerable, even among strangers.
Seriously wounded in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan back in 2012, 24-year-old U.S. Marine, Kirstie Ennis, somehow found the strength to embark on a 1,000-mile journey with five other people. She was supposed to have her leg amputated below the knee over the summer but postponed the surgery in order to participate in the charity walk.
Remembering the Fallen
As they made their way along the journey, the Marine left 24 dog tags around the United Kingdom. She saved a final one, in honor of Corporal Baune, for last. Their trek ended with a visit to Buckingham Palace where Ennis was greeted by Prince Harry. She pressed the treasured dog tag into the royal’s hand only to have him reply: “No, I can’t. I can’t accept this.” He was clearly moved by the moment but the pair embraced after Ennis pleaded: “Please, you know what this means to me, I want you to.”
Baune was killed in Helmand Province in 2012. His unit was on patrol when they were hit by a blast from an IED. Ennis told reporters that he “passed away just 10 days before my helicopter went down and I was injured and the two guys who got blown up with him, Brad and Chris, and are missing their legs now have been part of my own support network in dealing with my own injuries. They were my rocks for a long time, we grew together in hospital. His wife, Colleen, is absolutely amazing. He was just 21.”
Despite her own suffering, she reflected on feeling grateful to be alive and spoke of how Prince Harry helped her get through the physically and emotionally painful journey. She explained: “I look at situations like that, he never came home, he had a wife and a family but he never came home. The six of us here today did come home, we are actually the lucky ones. The least we can do is share their legacy and honor their memory. Harry was reluctant to accept it at first because he knows how much it means [to me]. He has helped me lay a couple of them and was hesitant to take them as he knows how much it means to me. I told him he had to.”
Pushed to the Limit
Some might assume that, because Ennis was able to complete the walk and postpone her surgery, things may not be as bad as they seem. Calling the experience “bittersweet,” she described the process. “It was quite painful and there is nothing you can do to prepare for that, even when you are able-bodied, much less when you have debilitating injuries. It was quite the challenge. I have never felt so disabled in my life at times” she said. “But to say that we have done it now, it is a great feeling. We have pushed our limits. I have been here for three months and a huge part of me will be left here when I return home.”
Harry’s Military Connection
Prince Harry doesn’t have to work if he doesn’t want to. He has castles and palaces where he can lay his head and security guards to keep him safe. While it is true that he will never understand the life of a true commoner, he has done some truly exemplary things in his life.
For example, the 31-year-old is the veteran of two tours in Afghanistan so he can relate to and understand Ennis’ plight better than one may realize. Ed Parker, the co-founder of Walking with the Wounded explained that Harry is “is somebody they are able to relate to very easily and importantly he can relate back to them. He’s genuinely interested in hearing people’s back-stories. He wants to get under their skin so he can take that understanding and experience to help others in the future.”
I’m glad that Ennis was able to complete her journey and that Harry was able to help her fulfill her wishes. It sounds like the pair exchanged a very meaningful moment remembering someone who sacrificed everything for what they believe.