Joe Serna served three tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret. Judge Lou Olivera is a veteran, too, who served in the Army as an intelligence officer. But when they met, it wasn’t on base. It was in a North Carolina courtroom.
Serna had been struggling to adapt to life back home, and, after violating probation on a DWI charge, he was sentenced by Olivera to a night in jail. He would have spent that time in his cell alone with his thoughts if Olivera hadn’t joined him.
One year later, during a visit with StoryCorps, he tells Olivera that the night in a cell brought back memories of war — and one horrific memory, in particular. “In Afghanistan,” Serna says, “it was me and three other guys on the truck, really good friends. And I had an accident where our truck flipped all the way over into a river.”
Serna says he and his friends were trapped as the water slowly filled the vehicle, rising from his ankles to his waist, eventually to his chin. In the darkness of the moment, Serna says, the air was filled with diesel fumes, leaving them struggling for air.