RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time again for Story Corps. Today again, an encore presentation of a story from the Military Voices Initiative which records post-9/11 servicemembers and their families. Marine Corporal Zach Skiles served in Iraq at the start of the U.S. invasion. When he came home, he had trouble holding a job and ended up homeless. He had never spoken with his family about what happened to him until he sat down with his father, Scott, for Story Corps. The story starts on the day that Scott drove Zach to his base just before he 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, 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?
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. And the crazy thing was that I didn't think that there was anything super wrong. You know, at night time, 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 is 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. I'm just asking.
S. SKILES: 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.
MONTAGNE: Scott Skiles and his son, Marine Corporal Zach Skiles, in San Francisco. Zach went on to work with veterans with PTSD. He is now enrolled in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. This conversation is archived at the Library of Congress. Hear more on the podcast, on iTunes and npr.org.
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