LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Let's hear now from StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, sharing stories from post-9/11 service members and their families. Today, the story of Marine Cpl. Zach Skiles. He served in Iraq during the start of the U.S. invasion in 2003. When he came home nine months later, he couldn't hold a job. He ended up homeless. Zach and his father, Scott Skiles, never sat down to talk about life after war. At StoryCorps, they remember how it all began the day Scott drove Zach to his base before being deployed.
SCOTT SKILES: I remember saying to you every gift that I've been given, I don't have a better one than to be your dad. And I remember you smiling and saying I love you too, Dad. And then you got out of the car and went to war. So what was life like after you came home?
Marine Cpl. ZACH SKILES: I was pretty sure someone was going to kick down my door, and I was scared to go to sleep. I couldn't sustain employment. I couldn't pay rent and pay for groceries. It all just kind of fell apart, and then I was homeless. The crazy thing was that I didn't think that there was anything super wrong. At nighttime, I stayed on coastal trails and hiking trails. And in the daytime, I could just pass out at a park.
S. SKILES: There was a time-period where I didn't know where you were. And it's difficult to watch anyone let go of hope. But when it's your son, it's excruciating. I remember great relief that you decided to go into inpatient treatment. And I remember one night you getting out of the car to walk back into the treatment building. It was dark, and your head was kind of down. And for a moment, I could feel the weight you were carrying. As I watched you walk into that building, I uttered these two words that - I don't know if they were some kind of prayer or not, but they just came out - my son. And I was absolutely overcome with grief and love and the beginning of hope. What is life like for you now?
Z. SKILES: It's pretty cool (laughter).
S. SKILES: You graduated undergrad.
Z. SKILES: Yes.
S. SKILES: I heard summa cum laude.
Z. SKILES: (Laughter).
S. SKILES: I'm just asking. That's what I heard.
Z. SKILES: Yeah.
S. SKILES: I remember my dad saying this to me, and I feel it is so true between you and I. It is your life so you have the last word. But then as your dad, that gives me the second to the last word. And the second to the last word is I believe in you, and I'm on your side.
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WERTHEIMER: That was Marine Cpl. Zach Skiles and his father Scott Skiles in San Francisco, Calif. Zach now helps veterans with PTSD at the Pathway Home, the same program that helped him recover. He will start a doctoral program in clinical psychology next fall.
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