This Ma­rine vet­eran found a road out of home­less­ness and a path to hope

Lodi News-Sentinel - - RELIGION - By Lucy Lug­in­bill

He was one of them.

A mem­ber of a com­mu­nity the young Ma­rine never en­vi­sioned af­ter serv­ing his coun­try.

Yet, U.S. Ma­rine Da­mon Machado has shared the fate of an es­ti­mated 40,000 vet­er­ans na­tion­wide who on any given night have no shel­ter.

Home­less­ness is a "neigh­bor­hood" in which no one wants to live. But in that com­mu­nity of vet­er­ans, there are men and women, each with a unique story — pa­tri­ots who have served with heart.

"I re­mem­ber walk­ing on watch with an Iraqi or Kuwaiti guard and kids com­ing up to you and ask­ing for change — for monies, rubles," Da­mon said, re­call­ing in­deli­ble mo­ments as a 19-year-old Ma­rine aboard the USS Tarawa dur­ing the Per­sian Gulf War.

"You're ba­si­cally stand­ing next to their house and it's just rub­ble. You ask, 'Where are your par­ents?' They point over to a burnt-out sta­tion wagon with bod­ies still in it," he said, his eyes be­tray­ing emo­tion. "And then me, just giv­ing them all the money I had."

Night­mares haunted him. Mem­o­ries fol­lowed him.

Strug­gling to re­turn to a nor­mal life af­ter his dis­charge, Da­mon suf­fered the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of the war as well as child­hood phys­i­cal abuse from a step­dad.

"I was on and off home­less and couldn't hold a job," Da­mon said, re­call­ing how his drink­ing spun out of con­trol when he ar­rived home to hear the shock­ing news that his mar­riage had been an­nulled while at sea.

But in typ­i­cal mil­i­tary fash­ion — and with few re­sources — he pri­vately and valiantly fought his per­sonal bat­tles, strug­gling to rise above his past and fo­cus more on what he could give back to so­ci­ety. When the Viet­nam Vet­eran's Me­mo­rial (The Mov­ing Wall) was in Hes­pe­ria, Calif., he stepped up to honor the mil­i­tary who had paid the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice.

"I played Taps for the open­ing cer­e­monies," Da­mon said, re­flect­ing on what it meant to stand in dress uni­form and play his bu­gle for these war he­roes — and his own fa­ther, who died when Da­mon was only 3. "My dad's name is on the wall and it was tough. He did two tours in Viet­nam and got the Sil­ver Star posthu­mously."

Sol­diers who were for­tu­nate to re­turn from the Viet­nam War of­ten suf­fered Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD), a term that in the 1970s re­placed "shell shock." Af­ter Da­mon served in Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm, his PTSD went un­di­ag­nosed un­til 2015, when the 45-year-old was of­fi­cially de­clared to have the dis­or­der.

Still, the ef­fects of PTSD can make the life­long jour­ney dif­fi­cult, even with gov­ern­ment re­sources. Un­ex­pected "life mo­ments" can also add fur­ther chal­lenges.

When it be­came im­per­a­tive to help with the care of his dy­ing fa­ther-in-law, Da­mon and his wife, Yvette — "his rock" — with their six chil­dren made a dif­fi­cult move from Cal­i­for­nia to Wash­ing­ton state. But the stress of crowded liv­ing con­di­tions un­der one roof and fi­nan­cial strain took their toll on him. Even­tu­ally, he chose home­less­ness — liv­ing out of his 2001 GMC Jimmy — to re­lieve some of the pres­sure, al­low­ing more space for his fam­ily at his in-law's Ben­ton City, Wash., home.

No job. Alone. Cold weather ap­proach­ing.

A bleak fore­cast for this Ma­rine. But the gloom lifted when prov­i­den­tial cir­cum­stances in­ter­vened.

"I was fish­ing for my next meal on the Columbia River, right on the Columbia Park Trail," Da­mon said, re­mem­ber­ing the mo­ment when life took an up­turn. "The Young Marines troop was drilling at the Ki­wa­nis build­ing, and so I walked up there and played the na­tional an­them, and they all stood at at­ten­tion."

That pa­tri­otic act brought Da­mon front and cen­ter with a few com­mu­nity "an­gels" — peo­ple who saw that help­ing this vet­eran was an op­por­tu­nity, not a bur­den.

"They ob­vi­ously care about vet­er­ans here in Wash­ing­ton," Da­mon said. "Ever since I got here, there's so much love."

It was love in ac­tion when the Tri-City Young Marines' leader re­al­ized the bu­gle player was home­less and liv­ing in his car. He im­me­di­ately con­tacted an­other Ma­rine leader who is ac­tively in­volved in a lo­cal Ma­rine Corps League. They then put Da­mon in touch with one more "an­gel."

Wil­liam Sweet is a Ma­rine vet­eran of the Viet­nam War era who has founded the non­profit Wash­ing­ton Chris­tian Min­istry in his re­tire­ment. One by one, and with vol­un­teer help, he rebuilds do­nated recre­ational ve­hi­cles that are in turn given to vet­ted home­less vet­er­ans in the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

"It's night and day from liv­ing in my car, and it gives my wife peace of mind that I'm safe," Da­mon said, glanc­ing to­ward the mo­torhome parked in his camp­ground space, a Ma­rine dress uni­form hang­ing in the win­dow. "At least I have a place to cook, and that saves me money. And one of the county com­mis­sion­ers knocked the camp­ing fee down to only $5 a day so I could af­ford it."

But this proud Ma­rine isn't one to just take and not give back. He's about task and pur­pose.

Be­sides vol­un­teer­ing to play Taps at mil­i­tary funer­als and help­ing his wife with fam­ily mat­ters, he is also lend­ing a hand else­where as he waits to be­gin vo­ca­tional train­ing.

"I'm help­ing 'Pas­tor' Sweet fix up a do­nated RV we just got. And we're look­ing for an­other home­less vet­eran," Da­mon said thought­fully as he pon­dered the dif­fer­ence the RV had made for him. "It's a 'house' — and it has elec­tric­ity!"

A place to call home.

Lucy Note: Since this in­ter­view, Da­mon and his fam­ily have re­lo­cated to a four-bed­room apart­ment with as­sis­tance from the Blue Moun­tain Ac­tion Coun­cil, a pri­vate, non­profit, multipurpose agency. "I'm sure your pray­ers were a fac­tor," Da­mon said in a text to me.

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

U.S. Ma­rine vet­eran Da­mon Machado has been able to stay at a lo­cal camp­ground in this do­nated mo­torhome that has helped him out of home­less­ness. Machado re­turned from Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm and has since suf­fered from Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der.

Da­mon Machado in his dress uni­form.

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