VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — On the morning of October 12, 2000, an act of terror left an indelible scar on the Norfolk-based USS Cole, and on the memory Navy Master Chief Sonar Technician Paul Abney.

“Chief that was sitting across from me, he was thrown over my head and across the room. He grabbed me at one point and said he was dying.”

Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow and 16 others lost their lives, leaving Abney to ask why he was spared.

“When we went back to help get him out, and I carried with me some survivor guilt from that.”

Nearly three decades earlier, Nigel Mumford joined England’s Royal Marine Commandos and became a drill instructor, before seeing combat in Northern Ireland.

“I crashed; I was diagnosed with shell shock in 1978 because I was told some of my recruits died in training. I couldn’t speak for a week, and I stuttered for six months.”

Mumford left the service for a different calling, “and somebody said, you know Nigel, you’ve been recycled.”

Now an Episcopal priest at Galilee Church in Virginia Beach, the Rev. Nigel Mumford has opened doors to wounded souls in need of repair, veterans welcomed by a grateful nation.

“It was my job [as a drill instructor] to make grown men cry, and now I’m a priest and I still make grown men cry … I’m not a faith healer, but I have faith in God who heals.”

In 2008, Mumford spearheaded a new outreach program called the Welcome Home Initiative. It’s an annual retreat for Veterans at Galilee Church in Virginia Beach.

“And the whole genre of this program,” says Mumford, “is to set the captives free.”

One of those captives: Retired Navy Master Chief Paul Abney, who assists Mumford in reaching those nursing the wounds of post traumatic stress, “so if I could save one sailor, by increasing their knowledge, you know, of what they needed to do.”

“I’m in the best job in the world, because there’s no stress, Mumford says as he points to the sky, “because He does it. He goes before us and He does it. I just show up.”

Veterans across the country come to Virginia Beach for the 3-day event in November. They share painful stories, and work to unburden their souls from memories they carried for years. Fred Norton, an Army veteran, recalled his return home from his tour in Vietnam.

“And I got jumped. Uniform was torn off me. I was beat up.” He also tearfully shared a secret he kept buried from his family for more than 50 years.

“I was a POW. I never told anybody, especially my wife.”

Norton’s story reflects the need for love and acceptance, which Mumford says is the critical first step to healing.

“Love is the bottom line, and we all need to be loved. We all need to be told ‘Thank you. Well done, good and faithful servant.'”