Mike DePalma: A Wounded Warrior Who is Still in the Fight

Big hearts often come at a price.  Too often those that are willing to fight tooth and nail for the faceless and nameless come from a past of trauma and suffering.  That instinctual drive that reaches out even when the pain of your personal life grips you so tightly that you can’t breathe.  The service to others guides you through the personal tragedy to live and move forward just for today.  Generosity overtakes the trauma which is put aside to deal with later because someone is in need putting your own demons on the back burner.  The battle proven body, the warrior to the core, but the heart of a teddy bear.

Mike DePalma was born in the one square mile city of Hoboken.  The city that has been the focus of mythology for centuries and birth to such great names as Frank Sinatra, Alfred Kinsey, Joe Pantoliano, and Buddy Valestro just to name a few.  Hoboken is a place that great movies used as a back drop such as “On The WaterFront”, and “Analyze This”, adding to the mystic of a beautiful backdrop to some amazing stories.  Mike DePalma stands out on his own through his bigger than life personality and kind actions.  They broke the mold when he was made and even today walking the streets of Hoboken with him is like being on tour with the Beatles in their heyday.  “Hey Mike” is on the lips of every person you pass.  Forever humble, Mike greets ever single person by name and remembers a little antidote about a moment frozen in time that connected the two.  Local heroes are essential to the fabric of a neighborhood, and make this large city feel like the rural hometown that it is at heart.

Mike learned lessons from his father, a man of respect in Hoboken.  How to greet everyone and give them the sense that they are family.  Even the distinct Hoboken accent and colloquialism that come out leave you in wonder if he is really talking English, but when another Hoboken ear hears the pitch and camber of Mike’s voice they instantly turn their head and understand his words.  

“Hey Cump”, Mike yells down the street during a backyard festival that he invited me to on summer afternoon.  The word “Cump” must have been said 50 times throughout the day.  There was no way that I was about to ask what this meant because it sounded like a dirty word, but after this greeting the two men often embraced as if they were family.  Learning later that “Cump” was a shortened slang for the Italian word  Compadre meaning good friend.  Never was there a more bizarre and wonderful experience than that backyard festival.  There amongst the crowd was the great fighter Gerry Cooney who’s famous fight in 1982 against Larry Holmes, interacting throughout the crowd.  In this amazing crowd of characters, Mike knew and loved each and every one.

Growing up, Mike was an excellent baseball player.  His strong family upbringing kept him on the straight and narrow although he knew, and was good friends with many who were not so fortunate.  Mike doesn’t judge anyone and that’s what makes him so special.  When it was time, Mike Joined the Army and chose to serve his country with honor.  Service for Mike is satisfaction.

Rising through the ranks as an Officer, Mike was in charge of men who are willing to fight and die for their country while following his lead into battle.  Deployed to Iraq during the Iraq-Afghanistan war brought a whole new level of his personality to the forefront.  Mike had a natural ability to lead.  His heart for his soldiers was a beacon of hope inside a grim environment.  To die for those under your command is a selfless joy that brings meaning to your life.

While in Iraq, Mike saw every bit of ugliness that War has to offer.  Friends being killed, firefights, the despicable living conditions and the hatred of a soldier as a symbol for the American way of life.  Life puts you where your always meant to be, for Mike in this foreign land the meaning behind his survival was in the fortuitous moments that spared his life.  The latrine for the barracks that housed the American forces was in another part of the Forward Operating Base and as people usually do, often waking and having to use the lavatory. 

The average person dreads walking barefoot down the hall in the middle of the night no less traveling some distance to have a little bit of comfort.  So moving to another position to make the discomfort try to go away was Mike’s nightly routine.  Finally after realizing the pain is not going away, Mike rose to make the trek to the latrine.  As he approached, the distinct whistle of a live mortar round was ever-present.  Boom!!!!!  The mortar round struck the latrine where Mike should have been had it not been for the prolonging of a bathroom break.  The concussion threw Mike up against a wall knocking him unconscious. 

On a separate occasion, during one of the many firefights with the enemy, a little girl began to approach their location.  The vivid memory of her “Hello Kitty” backpack struck Mike as odd.  What was this little girl doing in the middle of this hostile situation?  The use of backpacks and small children are often a conduit on how the enemy delivered Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks.  The rest of that story is best left to the imagination because the outcome is too horrific for words.

These incidents left both a psychological, emotion, neurological, and physical traumatic effect on his entire body.  Now after his deployment has ended, Mike has to return to the city he loves and rejoin his Police department in the city of Hoboken.  You can’t un-concuss your head, you can’t unsee the trauma, you can’t turn the memories off.  His hypervigilance, visceral reactions, and instinct kept him alive in Iraq but now in the world of Law Enforcement, he must learn to temper his decision making.  

The Veterans Affairs Hospital will try to relieve the pain of war by medication, unfortunately medication can alter your mental state and adding alcohol to deal with past trauma can leave a lasting mark on all your relationships.  Mike was sliding down into a dark hole of addiction brought on by PTSD and there was no one there to arrest the fall.

His marriage began to shatter but he was a man who never stopped giving to others.  His two twin children were the only thing to keep his peace.  During the divorce proceedings, Mike made a tragic error that took his life into the deepest darkest hole erasing his peace and escalating his pain.  During the litigation, a parent coordinator was assigned and was an avid Mickey Mouse fan.  Mike was already on tilt and was mandated to pay for his ex-wife’s legal bills as well as the charge for the parent coordinator. 

He saw a chance to get in a passive aggressive jab and chose to send loose change, loose dollar bills in a box with a doll of Mickey Mouse seated directly on top with the mouse’s middle finger taped up.  While pouring change into the box, unbeknownst to Mike, a stray bullet fell into the box.  Police will go the range to practice their weapons proficiency and place the extra rounds in their pockets.  One night while emptying his pockets and putting his loose change into an empty water jug, a random bullet fell into the box that was to be delivered to the parent coordinator.

Mike will be the first person to step in when a friend is about to make a bad, life altering decision.  Due to his chaotic life at the time, he was unable to do so for himself.  All hell broke loose and the parent coordinator saw it as a personal threat.  Mike’s custody of his children was lost for a long time, only getting the opportunity to see them under strict supervised visits.  He was willing to do whatever was necessary to make this happen as they were his peace, his serenity, and what kept him here on this planet.

After a long fought legal battle, Mike has reunited with his children and found a new way in life.  Sobriety lets you see things with clear eyes.  Mike says “decisions made under the fuel of alcohol seem like a good idea, but when you look back in retrospect you see how bad they were”.  Mike chose to own his part in his issues and through therapy and the diagnosis of his TBI from that mortar round in Iraq, his life is coming back around. 

Never during all of this has he turned his back on his friends, especially when they needed him the most.  He has been nicknamed “The Hurricane” lovingly by his friends who knew how chaotic his life was.  His life was like a hurricane with danger flying all around, he has since taken cover and now that storm is in his rear view mirror.  Mike will look back and laugh, “The Hurricane is still in there, but I’m better at predicting the weather these days so I know how to avoid being in the middle of the storm”.

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Kevin P. Donaldson
Kevin P. Donaldson

An accomplished author, seasoned Motivational Speaker and Podcast Host, Kevin P. Donaldson is known for transforming the lives of audiences. His talks are attended by people of all ages and backgrounds. Kevin's approach toward finding success and healing is approached by embracing your pain and running toward it head-on.

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