The pursuit of wealth, fame and treasure in America is a staple to its history. In the early days, men and women alike flocked to the west in pursuit of gold. Today, some sue cities to gain a bit of wealth, others play lottery and some use their elected office for personal financial gain.
A few still risk it – whether it be through small business, working that not-so-secure 9-to-5 job, or wild adventures.
One man, Cork Graham, considered one of the best adventure memoirists of his generation and a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, chose to walk right into a nightmare in pursuit of treasure. But when the treasure is found, it won’t be for personal gain. His goal – if he finds the treasure – is to use the money to create a vocational school and sanctuary for combat veterans struggling with homelessness and PTSD.
Treasure Quest: Snake Island is a new series airing Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Discovery Channel. This real-life adventure captures Cork Graham and his crew as they gear up for their first venture onto the deadly Snake Island itself, where they’ll face triple- digit heat, cave-ins and their first terrifying encounter with one of the world’s deadliest vipers.
I had the chance to interview Cork, and his story is incredibly compelling. Back in 1982 he was a midshipman with plans to fly the F18. After it was revealed he suffered from PTSD as a result of being in Vietnam as a child in 1968, he asked for a leave of absence to go back to Asia in pursuit of tracking down MIAs. His request was granted.
So in 1983, Cork Graham burst onto the international scene, not as an author, but as a photojournalist. Now considered a combat photographer, he cut his teeth on the Kampuchea/Vietnam War and Hmong resistance in Laos. Intrigued by the possibility of finding Captain Kidd’s treasure and learning what happened to American servicemen and women listed as missing in action (MIA), he accepted an invitation to cover a covert treasure-hunting expedition to an island off the west coast of Vietnam. While on the adventure, Graham was captured by militia of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and held on trumped-up charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency.
He spent 11 months in captivity; seven months of those in solitary confinement.
After gaining his freedom, Cork went on to be a drug and alcohol rehab counselor; yet the lure of treasure continued to call his name. He has spent the past 20 years on treasure-seeking adventures.
But the pursuit of treasure and the adventure, without meaning, no longer has Cork’s attention – purpose is what drives Cork and the treasure is a means to fulfill that purpose – serving veterans who need a hand up – a fresh start.
Bottom line: Cork is one individual who embraces vision and ignores the road blocks. When the vision is big, the circumstances don’t matter. Treasure Quest: Snake Island is more than an adventure, treasure-seeking reality show, it is one man’s quest to help change the lives of those who seek real treasure: purpose and meaning after serving on the front lines. This is one show worth watching.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.