♪ ♪ (helicopter whirring) KIRSTIE ENNIS: There's a, a very special sensation in an aircraft.
You know when you have your hover bubble, if you will, and you know when you don't.
♪ ♪ And when you're in an aircraft the size of a CH-53 Delta, you definitely know when you're, when you're falling and not flying.
♪ ♪ After the helicopter hit the ground, I came to, and there is just chaos.
I remember rolling my tongue around my mouth and there being nothing-- grit.
I couldn't breathe out of my nose.
My leg was in an excruciating amount of pain.
But I didn't realize the severity of it.
I thought for sure I would get a few stitches and I'd go right back to it.
Um... And I think my first realization of, "You're going home," was when my sergeant major and when my gunnery sergeant walked into this makeshift hospital on Camp Bastion, and they were both crying.
They both just stood there and cried.
And, um... Yeah, I knew it was over-- I knew I was going home.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ MITCHELENE BIGMAN: When I look at this photo, I'm, I'm proud of this person.
She look like she went through a lot and still standing tall.
And still looking sharp.
(playing softly) (chanting) WES STUDI: The goal of every veteran's service is the tour of duty.
That is what we train for and are willing to die for.
But our journey doesn't end when we come home, and the road back can be a long one.
My name is Wes Studi, and I made that journey.
At age 17, I enlisted in the National Guard.
A few years later, I volunteered to go to Vietnam.
(speaking Cherokee): For me, service was a way to test myself and confront the challenges of war.
Today, I am an actor with a long Hollywood career.
But when I got back in 1969, I couldn't imagine what path my life would take.
Sometimes leaving the military can mean asking lots of difficult questions-- about the country, about the wars we fight, about ourselves.
Coming home has a way of changing your plans, of changing you.
♪ ♪ CODY AYON: When you fly out of Baghdad, they stuff you in an airplane.
You're sitting in cargo nets with all your equipment and it's dark-- you can't see anything.
You fly out at night, for obvious reasons, because it's harder to shoot you down at night.
And I'm thinking to myself, "This is the scariest moment of my life."
Because it's right at that moment where everything could go wrong, and everything you did, everything you just went through, is all for naught.
"Oh, my God, what if they shoot us out of the sky?"
♪ ♪ HERBERT SWEAT: You don't believe that you're truly on that bird.
My mind kept thinking about certain people that didn't make it or, or got seriously hurt over there.
So that's how I flew all the way to Guam.
♪ ♪ Then when we went down for the landing, I was waiting to either have an accident or, you know, some kind of destruction not to let me get across this pond.
JEFF MELLINGER: I just wanted to be left alone.
I was trying to make sense of the last 34 months.
The last soldiers I saw in the hospital, what happened to them?
How are they doing?
Where are they?
All those kinds of things.
And, you know, I'm surrounded by soldiers high-fiving each other and drinking and carrying on, and, you know, power to them.
I didn't want any part of that.
I just wanted to be, be left alone, I wanted to be quiet.
JAKE WOOD: When that flight takes off, all I could think about was that first beer.
(chuckling): I'm not going to lie.
I mean, I'm just sitting there, I'm thinking about how cold and refreshing that first beer is going to taste.
♪ ♪ Part of you is thinking, "When can I come back and finish this?"
But I was pretty actively trying to swallow that urge and just focus on that beer that I was going to get.
STUDI: My tour was up in April 1969.
One day, I was in the jungle, and the next, I was stepping onto a plane in Saigon.
I was totally on my own.
But it wasn't always this way.
American troops used to come home as a unit, and it could take weeks to get back to the States.
During the slow trip from France, World War I veteran Will Judy wrote in his diary that, "We talk much of comradeship in the coming civilian life.
"Like mystics, we are conscious "of an association that binds us into a passionate group different to all others."
Making the trip together gave those veterans time to process what they had experienced.
After Vietnam, the military realized how important it was to go through this transition as a group.
It's one of the reasons it's done this way today.
♪ ♪ WOOD: You have all these hundreds of Marines getting off these buses and there's just this field full of family members.
(cheers and applause) We're all in uniform, we all look exactly the same, and they're all trying to pick out who their son is, and you're trying to look through the crowd to find, you know, your family.
And you start to hear people shouting names, and you hear these reunions, and you just keep waiting for, for yours.
♪ ♪ My mom would see me because I'm tall, she'd pick me out, and then she just starts running and just, like, slamming people aside, you know.
Like a linebacker coming through on a blitz.
♪ ♪ You know, it was important for me, at least, to be strong.
She was already scared enough.
If I, if I broke down, she would have realized that her fear was warranted.
But if I played it cool, then maybe she would just let herself believe that the tour hadn't been that hard.
(talking indistinctly) BIGMAN: When the families found out I was coming back to Montana-- we have a small airport, but it was, like, that whole place was full.
And as soon as I stepped down, that's when the drums hit.
(drums pounding) The two gentlemen that met me, they were both Vietnam veterans.
It was my Uncle Alden and my Uncle Daniel.
They put some red paint on me and then they were going to put the warbonnet on me.
And I'm, like, "No," you know, "Women, we can't..." He goes, "No, you're, you're a warrior now."
It was just good to see that-- I mean, I was just...
I didn't expect that kind of a welcoming.
(people ululating, whistling) When I was going down the stairs, they were saying in my language that, you know, "We are very proud of her "because of the fact that, you know, she went into war.
"She came back to our people to be part of us again.
And she's a different person."
(drums pounding, people chanting) Then they said, "Okay, now you have to start your journey back."
And I couldn't figure out what he meant, and what it was was, I had to lead the people.
(chanting) They put their hand on my shoulder and everybody followed through.
(people chanting, drums pounding) We just walked through the airport until the song was over and they said, "She's home now."
♪ ♪ KELLY WADSWORTH: There was such a sense of relief landing on American soil.
I hadn't quite realized that it would be so, so emotional to truly land back home and know that it was over.
MAN: Good morning, how are you?
Well, welcome home.
WADSWORTH: I remember our flight landing at 5:00 in the morning on, like, a Tuesday.
And so for the folks in Maine to come out and be, you know, essentially the first ones of the American community to say, "Welcome home," making a gesture that wasn't...
It wasn't empty, it wasn't a platitude, it wasn't, you know, a bumper sticker... Oh, my gosh, I'm going to tear up.
(laughs) (voice trembling): It was really meaningful.
MAN: Welcome to Bangor, dear.
WADSWORTH: When I came back, I had a great plan to stay compartmentalized for as long as possible.
I had hoped to just simply close the door on my whole deployment experience and move on to the next chapter of life.
♪ ♪ And on that very first night home, I put my kids to bed, I helped them brush their teeth, I read them a story like I had always done, as if nothing were any different.
And I think that was more of living into a wishful thinking of wanting nothing to be different, as opposed to beginning to understand that I was a truly different person.
The grief, the loss, the joys of military life, I was unfamiliar with what it was going to mean and the ways that I would really be changed and not be able to go back to who I was before.
♪ ♪ The first couple of tours, I wasn't excited about going home, and that sounds crazy, but I was kind of a loner, kind of isolated.
My family was never involved in welcome homes.
And because I didn't have a girlfriend or a significant other, I'm telling you, if they would have gave me the option of skipping the welcome home ceremony, me personally, I probably would, because it just wasn't something I felt like that was for me.
That all changed when I was redeployed to Iraq.
I signed up for a pen pal service, and I met a woman from Fort Worth, Texas, which was my hometown.
We had all these commonalities and we were thousands of miles apart.
And finally, after eight months, I came home for vacation and met her, and from the moment I met her, I just knew.
Having a family to go to after you get out was completely life-changing.
What it did is, it allowed me not to focus on the fact that I was losing my identity.
When you're a soldier and you don't have family, and all you do is deploy, deploy, deploy, that is who you are.
I'll never forget my son holding this "welcome home" sign.
That was the first sign that anybody had ever made on my behalf out of all the deployments I'd ever done.
♪ ♪ I think that's when I knew in my heart I was ready to transition out.
Really, for me, it was the recognition that a chapter was closing out.
That one part of my life was over and a new one was beginning.
For a moment, I thought I saw my wife and kids on that dock.
I couldn't be that lucky.
- Well, maybe wives have a way of knowing when their men are coming home, Captain.
Take another look.
♪ ♪ STUDI: When I was a kid, Hollywood's version of a war story always seemed to end with the hero's return.
♪ ♪ In real life, though, coming home isn't the end.
It's actually the beginning.
♪ ♪ When I got back to Oklahoma, my mom told me I smelled different.
She made me bathe in a mixture of bleach and water more than once until that Vietnam smell disappeared.
But you know?
I thought civilians smelled different, too.
That was the first hint that returning to my old life was going to be harder than I thought.
For generations, the military mastered turning recruits into fighters.
As one observer wrote, "A civilian can be licked into shape as a soldier "by the manual of arms and a drillmaster, "but no manual has ever been written for changing him back into a civilian."
MELLINGER: Taking somebody who is a civilian to become a soldier and then trying to reverse that process, it's not going to work.
There's things you are never going to take out of a soldier, Marine, airman.
You know, I've been, I've been retired almost eight years.
Look at my hair, okay?
I just, I've been cutting my own hair since 1972.
I only know one way to do it.
♪ ♪ ANURADHA BHAGWATI: I did not have direct combat experience, but whether you've seen combat, whether you haven't, there's something that fundamentally shifts in your body, in, in your psyche, in military experience.
I mean, it's very deep.
What happens in boot camp, basic training, is such a profound transformation and you become dependent on that system emotionally.
Not just, you know, not just up here.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: From serviceman to ex-serviceman by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the millions.
Yes, today, the Veterans Administration is more, much more, than just a government agency.
It deals with people-- individuals, each with his own problem.
STUDI: The military has been grappling with how veterans re-enter the civilian world for decades, but all I got when we first landed in California were some vouchers to buy civilian clothes.
Like they thought a new pair of shoes was all that I'd need to make that transformation.
Today, all veterans go through something called a Transition Assistance Program.
AYON: They basically send you through a week and a half, two-week crash course where they give you all these resources.
If you're having trouble assimilating back into society, here's numbers to call, there's counseling available.
They really do a good job of reaching out to you.
The problem is, is that when you first get back, do you really care about that?
And the answer is no.
You wanna get out of that... uniform and get back into just your life.
♪ ♪ Those first few weeks are like a blur.
You're spending money.
You're going out, hanging out with your loved ones, you're seeing your kids, your friends.
You try to reconnect, right?
And then it hits you.
That stuff that you've soaked up for a year or however long you were over there, 18 months-- whatever your tour was-- has taken time and changed you.
And I feel like it changed me so much that I couldn't even remember sometimes who I was.
BIGMAN: I cried the day of retirement, because I was, like, "Okay, what am I going to be now?
What am I going to do now?"
You don't know what to, to expect that, you know, the unknown-- even though you're back home, it's, like, I'm going through another culture shock.
MANSOOR SHAMS: Where you're used to a paycheck on the first and the 15th, and your medical is right there on base, your groceries is right on base, and everything is right on base, right?
And now, all of a sudden, you have to say, "Go do it on your own, figure it out."
NICK IRVING: After I got out, it was just hard to process.
I felt that I was only good at one thing, I was only good at being a sniper.
I could only do this and that's all I knew.
That was as good as I'll ever be, you know?
I was, I would never be number one in life again.
Nothing against it, but my personality and what I had been through, you know, having a regular 9:00 to 5:00 at that time wasn't something that I could see myself doing.
JO ANN HARDESTY: Some people have a hard time adjusting after they're out of the military.
Especially, I think, for folks who appreciated having someone tell them what to do every step of the day, every moment that they were awake.
I was looking forward to not having to do that.
♪ ♪ I was so ready to be in charge of my own destiny.
I was so ready to see what I could do based on my own talent, based on my own desire.
I was convinced that I had picked up enough in my four-and-a-half years in the military that I knew I would be okay.
I had talents that were transferable.
And so I applied for jobs that required a college degree, five years of experience, and got them.
And I didn't have a college degree, didn't have five years of experience in the field, but because of the confidence I would show and because of my empathy for people, employers thought I was good to take a chance on.
And I thrived in those environments.
♪ ♪ HAROLD BROWN: I got a tremendous level of education in the military.
And I had more responsible jobs, big jobs, very important jobs.
I flew 20-some different aircraft-- C-47s, T-29, the six-jet-engine B-47.
I flew them all.
I was always looking for that next mountain to climb.
And I always compared myself with the guy who had a rank above me.
I said, "If that yo-yo can become a captain, I know I can!"
And that really had me prepared.
When I left, going out in civilian life was really a piece of cake.
(cars passing, horns honking, whistle blowing) GREG COPE WHITE: The Marines taught me to push myself forward.
I'm just out of the military, I'm living in New York City, and I go to the bank to open an account.
I expected to just go in, sit down, open account, take an hour, and get out.
There was so much rigamarole going around in that bank that day.
And I went full-on Marine.
(loudly): "You're gonna stand there, "with your (bleep) (bleep) in your hand "and tell me that you're proud of this job?
"Your (bleeping) dead grandmother "could have done a better job.
Get the (bleep) outta my sight!"
(shouting) And I did walk out of that bank about an hour later with an account.
MAN (on radio): Be advised we're going to get set up for an inbound run to eliminate any collateral damage.
BRUCE BLACK: It is tough to go from a purpose-driven life to, "Eh, whatever, whatever you want to do," you know?
MAN (on radio): That was from the left, so I'll offset left and then turn right.
BLACK: There were times when I was flying drones and I was supporting troops, and I forgot that I was sitting in Las Vegas.
The door would open on the ground control station, and all of a sudden, the light of, of southern Nevada comes streaming in.
"Oh, crap, I'm in Vegas."
So you finish your shift, and you get in the car, and it was about an hour drive home.
That was my time to take off my game face.
But you get home, and all of a sudden, you're back in civilian life.
You walk in the door, and it's, like, "Honey, your truck dripped oil on the driveway again," it's, like... "I don't care.
"I'm sorry, I can't right then, and I'm not, I'm not going to be able to for a while."
(man speaks on radio, gun firing) MAN (on radio): Shoot again.
(gun firing) One more.
BLACK: My job was going from... war to... eh...
Civilian life again.
♪ ♪ PHIL KLAY: When you're in a place where there are real life or death stakes going on, it can sometimes, I think, screw up your sense of the kind of more subtle stakes in everyday life.
You know, there's, there's this saying, you know, "We were at war while America was at the mall."
The people love to say, "While I was over there..." And, you know, I used to have that feeling, like, "Yeah, they're just doing stupid consumer stuff, and we're over here doing the real thing."
And so you come back and there's this sense like nothing matters, everything's colorless, because, you know, over there is life and death, and over here is just, you know, whatever, right?
And I was at the mall shopping for baby clothes not that long ago.
(chuckling): And I thought to myself, like, you know, "This is what I'm supposed to be doing.
I'm, I'm getting stuff for my baby, and it matters."
Waking up every day, being a good father, a good husband, doing the basic stuff of life, right?
That is valuable, right?
That is meaningful.
If it's not meaningful, then we, then it's not worth risking people's lives to go protect it.
STUDI: While I was over in Vietnam, it was hard not to fixate on what we'd left behind, or wonder about the reception that would be waiting for us when we finally did arrive.
♪ ♪ MAN: ♪ When Johnny comes marching home again ♪ ♪ Hurrah!
♪ ♪ We'll give him a hearty welcome then, hurrah!
♪ STUDI: The traditional welcome home is summed up by the old Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
That's not the kind of stuff we listened to over there.
It was more like Jimi Hendrix.
("Machine Gun" by Jimi Hendrix playing) ♪ ♪ DUERY FELTON, JR.: If you understand previous wars, Johnny came marching home to the parades and the accolades and the Canyon of Heroes.
That was lacking in Vietnam.
STUDI: When I got back, there were pickets and protesters everywhere.
A lot of people were against the war.
My old friends in Oklahoma knew where I'd been, but they didn't want to talk about it.
So I sort of clammed up and just said nothing.
It was a very divisive time.
MELLINGER: People didn't understand, you know, what are we doing in Vietnam?
CROWD: Hell, no, we won't go!
Hell, no, we won't go!
Hell, no, we won't go!
MELLINGER: There was a lot of angst and a lot of anger.
And the end result was a lot of that passion and anger being directed at the men and women in uniform.
Whether being talked bad about or confronted or whatever, whatever may have happened.
♪ ♪ EDIE MEEKS: It was nearing the time when I was going to go home, and nurses were coming in and saying, "Whatever you do, when you hit the States, take your uniform off."
And that was the first time that I was really alerted that something was really different.
But I didn't really think that they would take it out on the soldiers.
Most of these guys were between 18 and 23, and they were just doing what their country told them to do.
♪ ♪ SWEAT: We did a lot of killing.
This was an experience that I never really truly got over.
I stayed hidden a lot.
I stayed with a low profile when I got back.
It was an unpopular war that I was in.
FELTON: When I personally returned home, I was shunned.
And many veterans were shunned.
And even many of the service organizations shunned veterans.
There was division even within the veteran community.
(crowd chanting, people talking in background) RANDY ROWLAND: G.Is.
were coming out of the woodworks to oppose the war, out of their own experience.
I mean, that was my coming of age.
I did everything in my power to stop that war.
Me and a whole generation of my peers.
(cheers and applause) Robert Jones, New York, I symbolically return all Vietnam medals and other service medals given me, given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against non-white peoples of the world.
(cheers and applause) More power to the people!
(cheers and applause) STUDI: Returning service members have a long history of demanding change, in part because America hasn't treated all its veterans equally.
Generations of Black troops faced brutal violence when they came home.
One World War II veteran named Isaac Woodard was blinded by a white police chief and became a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement.
He argued that "Negro veterans "went overseas and did their duty, and now they're home and have to fight another struggle."
One of the assumptions some of us made is that if we put our lives on the line for our country, at the very least, we'd get the rights and benefits of full citizenship.
That was supposed to be part of the bargain.
BROWN: I lived in an integrated base in the military, leave the base, and went home to a segregated civilian life.
The first Civil Rights Act was not passed until 1964, some 19 years later.
SWEAT: Even in 1968, when I came home, there was still unbelievable things happening to soldiers of color.
Over there, it was different.
It wasn't Black and it wasn't white in the bush.
When I got home, it was like almost the same before I left.
We were still separated.
STUDI: After I got home, I was still wrestling with questions about my time in country.
Like, what the hell had I been doing over there?
Sometimes, Vietnamese civilians pointed out that I had more in common with them than I thought.
Not that long ago, the American Army had been aiming guns at my people.
That was my preoccupation.
For other veterans, coming home means struggling to let go of what you've been through.
SHOSHANA JOHNSON: My situation is so very unique.
I'm the first Black female P.O.W.
In my head, I was going to go do six months, save some money, lose some weight, then come back home.
That was the plan, you know?
Of course, it didn't turn out that way.
We go into the city of Al-Nasiriyah, we're rolling through, and then they get a communiqué that says, "The city is not secure-- get out, get out."
I remember we make a left, and it goes along this curved road, and then they have us turn around, and I'm, like, "What the hell is going on?"
And as we turn around to make the correct turn out of the city, that's when the ambush starts.
(guns firing) And we go underneath the vehicle to take cover and return fire.
(guns firing) Not even a minute underneath the vehicle, I get shot, both my legs.
And, uh, I pray, and then I feel someone grab my legs and drag me from underneath the vehicle.
(guns firing) And they start beating the daylights out of us.
My helmet falls off and they see my braids.
And then they, they step back, like it's a... "What the hell?"
And I guess they realize I'm a female, and they're, like, stunned, and then I'm immediately separated.
They drag me to a vehicle and they take off.
I didn't know if the rest of the company made it out alive.
MAN: Where are, do you come from?
MAN: From any unit in, uh, American Army?
- 507th Maintenance.
♪ ♪ JOHNSON: April 13, this is, like, movie stuff, you know?
Those old movies, uh, um, you see with John Wayne and stuff like that?
You hear the door being broken down, and, "Get down, get down," and it's clear English.
So I'm, like, "Oh, my God, I'm going home."
It was so wonderful.
(cheers and applause) They're trying to get ahold of my family, and I didn't think I would break down like that, but as soon as I heard my dad's voice, I broke down and started crying.
(laughs) ♪ ♪ And then they expect you to come home and be "normal."
How do you become normal?
(dog barking, man shouting) ENNIS: Altogether, I've had 44 surgeries, four of which have been amputations.
I lost my jaw, had damage to my eyes, my ears, my right frontal lobe, had fractures in my C2, C3, and C4 of my spine, and then in turn lost my left leg above the knee.
I was stripped of everything that I knew.
I was stripped of my career, my purpose.
And I fought for a while to stay in.
You know, thinking that I would, I would go back to being 100% and I would go back to being able to be a Marine, and being able to fly.
And so when I had that, that reality check of, "You're not going back to flying, ever," um... You know, I, I really struggled.
♪ ♪ FRANK DEVITA: We're called the Greatest Generation.
And some people say we saved the world.
At that time, we saved the world.
♪ ♪ When I came home, I didn't belong there anymore.
I was a stranger in my own house.
I didn't know what to do.
I missed my ship.
I missed my shipmates.
There was nobody to talk to.
There was no psychiatrist or anything like that.
It took me a long time to adjust.
A long time.
STUDI: I wasn't very good at being a civilian.
For about a year, I just drifted around.
I was practically homeless.
Eventually, I found a purpose, as an activist for the American Indian Movement.
But I still felt numb, so I turned into a thrill-seeker, believing that would make life feel worthwhile.
I wasn't alone.
I knew guys who struggled with addiction, alienation, and depression.
Truth is, this kind of trauma has been around for a long time.
During the Civil War, surgeons called the condition soldier's heart.
In World War I, it went by the name shell shock.
During World War II, they called it battle fatigue.
Today, it's known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
JAMES MCEACHIN: PTSD is a far more serious thing than I had thought.
Because I didn't know that I was afflicted by it that, that much.
I know what it is now to suffer from PTSD.
It was, um, a horrific feeling.
And it never, ever goes away.
MEEKS: I can remember driving down the road, and one of the songs came on that had been played over there a lot.
JIM MORRISON: ♪ You know that it would be untrue ♪ ♪ You know that I would be a liar ♪ MEEKS: And all of a sudden, I had a flashback.
And so I had to pull over.
And I immediately called my psychologist at the V.A., and I said, "This is what's happened."
He said, "You might not want to listen to that station."
And I said, "You're right."
I mean, I was so surprised, but it just triggered it.
PODELL: When you've spent 12 years where your life is in danger, then at that point, every day you wake up, there's a possibility of it happening.
I became a control freak.
And what I mean by that is, if I go into a restaurant, I know which table I'm going to sit at, and which chair, which I've got the best view of the restaurant.
I know where all the exits are.
I know if they've got security cameras.
And so there's this hypervigilance that always happens.
It's disproportionate, you know?
You're eating a meal with your family, but the reality is, I wasn't present, you know?
I didn't have that relationship that I wanted to have with them.
And so the way I coped with everything was keeping my brain just mentally bogged down to the point where I had no time to think about anything personal.
♪ ♪ MELLINGER: In Iraq, I was working for the four-star, at the time, General George Casey that literally owned that fight.
Everything in Iraq and that supported Iraq was my territory.
I certainly have... memories of events and, and... things that took place that are terribly disturbing.
♪ ♪ Sometimes, no matter how many ways you fix your mouth to say you did everything you knew how to do, and you did it as fast as you knew how to do it, it still is sometimes difficult to reconcile the feeling that you didn't.
♪ ♪ "Geez, if we'd have left five minutes sooner."
"If we'd have left five minutes later."
The what-if... (sighs): That's hard sometimes to... To be at peace with, if that makes sense.
(laughing, cheering) JOHNSON: For me, I thought of those who I knew were dead, and I felt so guilty-- survivor's guilt-- because there's no rhyme and reason for why I came home and they didn't.
I deployed out of my hometown, I came back to my hometown.
I, I go to my hometown V.A.
So they take good care of me.
And yet, I've been in a mental health hospital three times in 15 years.
PODELL: In your imagination, you're just going to get out of the military and you're going to put up the white picket fence and live happily ever after.
And unfortunately, things creep out of your past that sometimes make that difficult.
We were coming out of Kuwait up to Iraq, and Iraqi Republican Guards that were in basic S.U.V.s hopped out, shot at us with A.K.-47s, and ran off.
At that point, we were given the order to take the vehicle out.
MAN: Rapid rate of fire, engage.
(guns firing) PODELL: It wasn't until we got next to the vehicle that we realized what had happened.
And it was a mother and a father and two kids.
And to me, that was probably the one thing I'm still to this day trying to shake.
I just couldn't wrap my mind around what I had done.
I'm a good man.
I would never hurt anybody intentionally.
And so walking away from that incident and watching that whole thing unfold absolutely changed me, especially when I became a parent myself.
This is me when I was a baby.
And this is my daddy.
And he can fight at anyone that is bad.
STUDI: During my 12 months in Vietnam, I saw some pretty intense combat, and the prospect of death was never far from my mind.
It's like that for a lot of veterans who find themselves in the action, no matter what war or branch they were in.
All of us have to carry the burden of what we witnessed and reconcile ourselves with what we did or didn't do.
AVERY ALEJANDRO: When you train for so long and you expect to do certain things, and those things happen, it's a rush.
It is a feeling that I miss.
It's a feeling that I try to experience again, and I often find myself in very dangerous situations just to match that feeling.
Getting blacked-out drunk, having unprotected sex, doing drugs.
I'm scared that I'm, like, killing myself.
I'm scared that I'm dying, because all I wanna do is just, like, crazy (bleep).
♪ ♪ BIGMAN: When I came home, I felt like I was going crazy internally.
I was really distant, and my kids sensed it, but then at the same time, I was really, uh, mean.
I didn't want to show my frustrations or weakness in front of my, my mother and my children, so I moved up to the attic.
There, I could, I could cry alone.
I could get mad alone.
I could drink alone and they wouldn't see where, you know, I was, I wasn't the same.
AYON: I can't tell you how many instances where they'd call me up and be, like, "Oh, so-and-so got arrested for a DWI last night."
Years later, "So-and-so is addicted to drugs."
"Somebody took their life."
Individuals that haven't been in combat don't understand there's no quick fix.
WOOD: At points, you feel like the book is closed, your war is over, but then you realize, like, the war followed you home and you just can't get away from it, you know?
You just can't escape it.
I think the hardest part about being a veteran right now is, um...
The losses keep mounting.
♪ ♪ Clay Hunt and I had served together all four years.
Clay was kind of my little brother.
He was my partner in sniper school.
The one thing in sniper school is, you're never allowed to be farther than arm's length away from your partner, ever, at any point in time.
And they drill this into you, this idea that you can only survive together.
And then, a couple of years after we came back from our last tour, when Clay needed me most, I wasn't there, and he killed himself.
And you'll have a lot of people tell you that there's nothing you could have done, it's not your fault.
You know, I understand that those are rational thoughts, but, you know, I'm not gonna lie to myself.
There's more I could have done.
And, you know...
Some portion of Clay's death is on me.
I wasn't arm's length.
ENNIS: I actually tried taking my own life.
(voice trembling): And, um... Luckily, there were a handful of friends there that picked up on what was going, what was taking place.
And, um, you know, they, uh...
They brought me where I needed to be.
And when I woke up the next day, my dad came to me and said, "You gotta be (bleep) me.
"The enemy couldn't kill you and now you are going to do it for 'em?"
Made me realize how lucky I was, because even though I was damaged and broken and maybe not the same person that I was the year prior, um, I still had a lot more to live for.
JOHNSON: Even now, looking back, I wouldn't change going in the military, being a soldier, for anything in the world.
The only thing I would change is that day.
If I could go back and unring that bell, and have all of us come home, that's the one thing I would change.
But I would never change my military service.
WHITE: One of the greatest gifts that I gained in the military is the fact that I can always take one more step.
You think you can't?
You think you're done?
You think you're exhausted?
There's no way you can take one more step?
(shouting) ANGELA SALINAS: I one day woke up and I was going out for a combat fitness test.
Every Marine regardless of age and rank still goes out and runs this combat fitness test.
Running, running, running.
SALINAS: It's about physical fitness.
It's about standards.
There's just no exceptions to that.
And I don't know how I got into the data, but basically, I learned on that particular day that I was the oldest woman in the United States Marine Corps.
And here I am going out to run this, this combat fitness test with my Marines.
So I got up there and I'm trying to compete, and these poor, you know, young kids, when I'm throwing them over my back, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, I tried not to eat breakfast today."
I'm, like "Hey," you know, "We got this," you know, "We're fine."
But that day, I went back to my office and I really came to the conclusion that this was now, it was time.
It was time for me to go ahead and see the next path, and so I went ahead and submitted my retirement papers, realizing that it was time for the next generation to take the helm, because it was, we were in a good place.
STUDI: Hanging up that uniform and figuring out your place in the world can be one of the toughest parts of the veteran's journey.
(woman cries out) STUDI: I missed the adrenaline of combat.
(guns firing) (people screaming) Action, Wes.
STUDI: And eventually, found it again in acting.
So what makes you want to work with the homeless?
I don't know.
(shouts, crowd shouting) STUDI: The stakes were high, but ones I could live with.
CHRISTIAN BALE: Tonight, it is my tremendous honor to be present at a long-overdue moment, as Wes Studi becomes the very first Native American to receive an Academy Award.
(cheers and applause) STUDI: The way home is different for everyone.
There's no one right way to take that next step.
(cheers and applause) Whoa!
WADSWORTH: When I returned, for about seven years, I served as a chaplain in retirement homes, assisted living, and skilled nursing.
And so I started a weekly veterans' group.
I wanted to understand, how do you carry all of this throughout your whole lifetime?
I mean, some of their stories, if we were to have a pecking order of war stories, some of theirs were infinitely worse than anything I encountered.
And so for them to sort of model and say, "It can be done, "you can carry all of that and you don't have to go numb, "you don't have to pack it away, "you don't have to shut the door on it, "you don't have to pretend that it's not there in order to get along in civilian life," they were definitely a lifeline for me.
Every individual needs to deal with each issue they have as a lifetime commitment.
You have to.
You gotta find that way to keep moving forward, to stay positive, to change yourself, to fit yourself into society-- you gotta engage in it.
ALEJANDRO: I found comfort in art, and that was my outlet.
This dark past and these crazy experiences that I've had.
I mean, I feel like the only way that, like, I'm able to voice that is through my art.
♪ ♪ I was used to killing things and getting rid of bad things, and the bad thing at that time that I felt was me.
So I contemplated on taking myself out of the equation.
But I found myself in my computer room, and I stayed in there for a few days, and just typed and typed and typed until this journal kind of formed.
And this journal turned into a book and that became the saving grace of everything.
♪ ♪ (people chanting) BIGMAN: I got back into dancing, and Native American Women Warriors kind of happened by accident.
I mean, I've done some color guarding, but it was usually in a males' color guard.
I was just, like, an extra or something.
But this time it was just all of us, all of us women, which was unique.
I was always one to kind of push the fact that, you know, hey, women are in the military, too, women go to combat, too, women are fighters, too.
So I made us some jingle dresses and I put our combat patches, our unit patches, our Army patches on there.
The jingle dress, which is Ojibwe, is a prayer dress and a dance of healing.
(drums pounding, people chanting) I thought, you know, it's time for me to heal.
(drumming and chanting continue) There was a piece of me that felt I was unworthy.
Unworthy to be a parent because of what had happened.
And so, to me, one of the biggest obstacles I faced was recognizing what was holding me up and preventing me from becoming a productive husband and a productive father.
You know, this isn't just about me anymore-- the reality is, it's a trickle effect, and it's affecting everybody in my family.
I've done a lot as far as my recovery, and I call it my recovery, because that to me is what it is.
Acupuncture, chiropractics, counseling, massage therapy, you name it.
I also went to school and got my psych degree.
Now all I do is, I do veterans work.
I do intensive PTSD retreats for veteran families.
I also volunteer as a chaplain for our local fire department.
And so about 90% of my, my time is now allocated towards helping other people.
Inevitably, there is always at least one person in this room that thinks they're fighting this PTS battle on their own.
It's not true.
MEEKS: My daughter, who was going to Mount Holyoke, was taking a course on Vietnam.
And she called me up and she said, "Mom, can you come up here and talk?"
I stood in front of probably 75 young women and I had never talked about it before.
But my daughter gets up and she said, "I want to introduce you to my mother, Edie Meeks.
"She was a nurse who served in Vietnam, and I'm so proud of her."
(voice breaking): 'Cause no one had ever said that.
So I got up and I said to the young women, "I don't know anything about the politics, "but I'll tell you what it felt like to be a woman over in Vietnam."
And at the very end, when people were coming up and saying, "Thank you so much," or whatever, the last little gal came up to me and she said, "Oh, Mrs. Meeks, I would have welcomed you home."
♪ ♪ SWEAT: This is how I was taught to become whole again, by speaking the truth and speaking... (sniffs) ...what I've held back for so long.
And here, 51 years later, I have found humanity within myself again.
♪ ♪ MAN: There you go, nice!
- (chuckling): It is so much to think about.
- No, you're doing...
It's already becoming more and more natural.
ENNIS: The hardest part of being in the hospital was, I didn't have anybody to look up to.
I didn't know any amputees.
I didn't know any wounded warriors.
And I damn sure didn't know any women wounded warriors.
So I don't think I realized what the possibilities were, I don't think I realized what I could be doing.
I needed an outlet, a release, and I fell in love with snowboarding.
Being originally from Florida, I wasn't super-familiar with mountains, but it was a sport that no one else was going to do for me.
And it was something so unfamiliar that it gave me the confidence that I could go out and do anything.
It just opened up so many doors for me.
♪ ♪ Here we go.
(voiceover): Now I, I climb for a cause.
I climb the most technical, some of the most volatile, and definitely the, the tallest peaks in the world, all for charity.
It's still my way of, of serving after service.
Yeah, I'm not flying around Afghanistan in the Marine Corps anymore, but that doesn't mean that I can't take care of people in a different way.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: For more about "American Veteran," pbs.org/americanveteran.
"American Veteran" is available on Amazon Prime Video.