When Peter Coukoulis, 26, returned from serving in Afghanistan, he wasn’t the same man.
He had always wanted to be a soldier. He made the decision on September 11, 2001, after seeing the World Trade Center attacks. He was only 11 years old.
“I had my hands full with him, but the one thing he followed through on was, he joined the Marines,” his mother Dena told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Peter joined the military as soon as he graduated from high school. From there, the Tallahassee, Florida, native was sent overseas to Afghanistan, where he spent the next 5 years. During his time in Afghanistan, he witnessed many traumatic events. He saw a fellow marine die in an explosion with his IED-sniffing dog, and later, he learned his childhood companion, a Beagle named Jackie, had died while he was away.
“When we had to break that news to him when he got back and then told us about the fatality, it was really very difficult,” Dena said.
When Peter finished serving in 2013, the community had a big celebration to welcome him home.
On the surface, the vet was full of smiles— but inside, he had been dealing with some demons.
“In the beginning,” Dena said, “it was kind of like he was isolating himself. I mean, he would hang out with us but spent a lot of time alone on the back porch.”
“I started to notice him withdrawing. Just not socializing, not talking, not sharing and not being able to sleep.”
Peter’s brother, George, noticed the vet seemed to be exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)— and urged him to seek help.
PTSD is a psychological response to traumatic events. Because trauma is inherent in a soldier’s experience, the disorder is common in military veterans. “The condition has been known to exist at least since the times of ancient Greece and has been called by many different names,” Veterans Affairs Canada explains. “In the American Civil War, it was referred to as ‘soldier’s heart’; in the First World War, it was called ‘shell shock’ and in the Second World War, it was known as ‘war neurosis'”.
“People with PTSD report frequent distressing memories of the event that they wish they did not have. They may have nightmares of the event or other frightening themes.”
“They sometimes feel as though the events were happening again; this is referred to as ‘flashbacks’ or ‘reliving’ the event.”
Peter’s mother Dena knew the statistics— 22 veterans die by suicide every single day. For their sake of her son’s life, it was imperative they get him some help. Later, the veteran was grateful.
“He told me, ‘Hey you were right. I don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise if you didn’t help me realize that,” George said.
“He needed that little boost to have the realization, and honestly, it’s like he’s a different person.”
Remembering how much Peter had bonded with their old beagle Jackie, Dena decided to get him a little surprise.
In this video, viewed over 1 million times, Peter’s father presents him with an early Christmas gift while Dena records.
When Peter takes a closer look, he notices the box is moving.
When it opens it up, he sees a brand-new baby beagle inside.
The moment is super heartwarming. Peter is so touched to have this little puppy, tears pool in his eyes.
“I think that emotion came from him experiencing all the loss,” Dena said.
“When he saw that puppy’s face, he saw life.”
“Stop recording,” Peter tells his mother embarrassedly in the video. Dena tells him they’ve been calling the puppy Willa— because she has “the will to live”.
Willa seemed to love Peter just as much as he loved her. Her little tail wagged back and forth as she licked his face.
Since being uploaded in 2016, Dena’s video has been viewed more than a million times.
It’s hard not to be touched by Peter’s reaction to surprise and the way he interacts with the puppy is adorable.
“That puppy loved him immediately,” one viewer notes.
“LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing the UNDENIABLE MATERNAL instinct come out in straight guys when they’re presented with puppies!” writes another.
“There is a reason dog is God spelled backwards.”
See it for yourself below!
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