VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As a young woman, Lynnette Bukowski had standard wedding plans: a dress, flowers, and a ceremony. But she was engaged to a Navy SEAL, which meant nothing would be ordinary.
Secret foreign affairs clashed with her wedding plans, and her marriage to Steve Bukowski started earlier than planned, and in a much different style than she envisioned.
“I married Steve when he was on deployment in the Philippines,” Lynnette said. “We ended up at a Christian men’s service center at 10 at night, in the middle of a typhoon. His entire platoon sang “Here Comes the Bride” because there was no electricity.”
Steve left three hours later for his first deployment. Lynnette didn’t know what to make of the man who returned.
“Things were very quiet, and I thought he didn’t like me anymore,” Bukowski said. “It’s that thousand-yard stare, it’s that thinking of something else.”
The Bukowskis learned from that first deployment, and all the others that followed in Steve’s 32 years as a SEAL.
“I learned that he just needed probably about two weeks before he was Steve again,” she said. “The intensity of coming home from war, as it is now, or just some of the missions they went on, it was really hard to transition.”
Steve dreamed of building a place for his SEAL brothers to rest and recover as they returned from deployment, so they could return to their families ready for everyday life. But he never got to make that dream become reality — six months after he retired, Steve had a massive heart attack and died instantly.
“I wasn’t going to let his dream of helping his brothers, who are my family, by the way, I have probably 4,000 people in my family, I wasn’t going to let that dream die,” Lynnette said.
Four years after his death, Steve’s dream is very much alive, and bigger than he probably ever imagined.
“I stepped off a large cliff of faith to do this, but it’s the right thing,” Lynnette said.
She put a name to Steve’s dream: Landing Zone Grace. She and her family searched for the right place, and earlier this year, her daughter, Sheri Bukowski, found a rundown, 30-acre horse farm in Pungo. It was full of signs that the Bukowski dream belonged there.
“I saw this statue of St. Francis with a broken hand and a hole in its heart,” Sheri said. “I went, ‘Well, how perfect is that? Here we are, just wanting to lend a hand and repair hearts.'”
The property was in foreclosure, but the Bank of Hampton Roads approved a loan, and Lynnette used Steve’s life insurance and savings to buy it. Since she and her family moved in, volunteers and donations began showing up.
“People are good and their hearts are huge,” Sheri said. “It’s amazing, it’s awe-inspiring.”
“People are just coming from everywhere to lend what they can, so that’s the kind of support I need, is people who have a heart for the mission,” Lynnette said.
Her mission is to eventually build a retreat where soldiers can get therapy, do yoga, ride horses, climb a rock wall, and go kayaking. But at first, it will be simple: meals around the family table, talking around the fire pit and taking in the feeling of being safe and still.
“It’s a place of peace,” Sheri said. “It’s a place where you really can come and breathe and reconnect with something — the trees, the air, your creator, your vision, your purpose, rest, whatever it is — I think it’s real, that’s for sure.”
Other people are starting to see that LZ-Grace is real, and that the need to heal the wounds of war is real.
“I want people to actually touch, feel, see the peace of LZ-Grace, so they can take the word out and get it out there,” Lynnette said. “So, the entire nation says ‘I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of healing.’”
With enough funding, LZ-Grace Warrior Retreat Foundation will open to the military this spring. To find out how you can help, visit their website by clicking here.