Not too long after opening our doors, we took in a veteran who was well into his seventies. He had become vulnerable to homelessness and the availability of a bed with us was preemptive to that. His former military service was one of tension having spent time in the DMZ (between the communist north and democratic south of Korea) after the cease-fire of that conflict. He said that even though the cease fire was firmly in place, he experienced plenty of back and forth live fire while there. Later in his service he was in the jungles of Vietnam during the early months of that conflict where he experienced combat and the firsthand give and take of the ultimate sacrifice warriors are asked to make in so doing.

Returning home to Spartanburg after his military service he married, had children and worked in one of the local mills as a foreman. He also became a very successful tournament fisherman in the bass-rich waters of the southeastern U.S. He won trophies, boats, the latest fishing gear and cash prizes regularly. His military service, with its difficult experiences, were lessened over time in his enjoyment of a quality life. Until the day when that all changed. In a single moment of crushing loss, PTSD took up permanent residency with him to fill the void.

Suddenly losing his wife of thirty plus years presented a new war zone to navigate and life became a landscape of one difficult circumstance after the next. It pinned him down in a combat-like existence for years to come. One of the first casualties of this difficult new landscape was fishing. It diminished into an unceremonious death when his tournament fishing partner and friend passed away suddenly as well only a few months later.

As we got to know him here at Warriors Once Again, I inevitably asked the kind of questions to get to know him on a deeper level. What we’ve been in our past lives is often merely a vague representation of ‘who’ we truly are. In those conversations, hearing his stories about fishing and the fullness it brought to him as a person I began to see who he truly was.

Zeroing in on his passion for fishing over the next few months he began to reawaken to the romance of it which had captured his soul years earlier. I saw him light up when we discussed it and hung on every word as he wove some of the secrets of his technical expertise into his “fish stories”. We soon began to plan a day when we would go drop a line in the water and wing it just to see what happened.

His mobility had diminished from what it was back in those days but we engineered a few work arounds to keep him stable on some of the local docks. Other residents in our program were interested in the plan, too, and soon we were all getting plenty of sunshine at our local lakes pretending we knew what we were doing. In reality the only one of us who did know what he was doing was our senior citizen veteran and certified Fish Whisperer, who could almost command the fish onto his hook. And he did exactly that each and every time we went out.

Over the course of that spring and summer who he truly was came back home again and the PTSD he had been tolerating for so many years became homeless.