'Stand downs' serve vets who live in woods near Forks

'Stand downs' serve vets who live in woods near Forks
FORKS, Wash. -- The concept of "stand downs" for military veterans has been around for a few years.

Troubled and homeless vets are given access to medical screening, mental health advice, clothing and more.

But you'll find a different breed of vets at the stand down in Forks - the ones who want to be as far away from people as possible.

Some have been fighting their own "personal" wars for more than four decades.

Past the soul-soothing peace of Crescent Lake, past the small town quiet that is Forks...and well out in the wet, green woods... where a broken man can lose himself forever...some of them have lived for decades--locked in a death-struggle against the ghosts of their own youth.

Early in the morning at the Forks Elks Lodge locals start showing up with boxes.

"I am a vet...and vets support vets," Ming Mingram says.

They set up a store and cook up some hot food.

"Clallam County has a huge number of veterans," a man says. "That need some help. so we're here to help 'em."

There's a pep-talk.

"We want this to be like a veteran walking into a family reunion," John Braasch says.

All the volunteers take a pledge.

Meanwhile, outside from all over the veterans start to show up.

Andy Corpus, a Navy man.

"Usually I stay out in the woods or on a boat somewhere, just keeping a low profile," Corpus says.

Charlie Claplanahoo, the last Korean War vet in Neah Bay.

"Seems like yesterday. a lot of things seem like yesterday. Yeah," he says.

Many of them came to the farthest corner of this country to get away from their wars,and the world. And whatever else it is that haunts them.

"Forty years later, it's branded on their brain," John Braasch says.

There are damaged men. Like Mike Abken.

"I haven't worked since--sorry, my brain doesn't work exactly right---since 2011," Abken says.

After two tours in Iraq, his battle with post traumatic stress disorder is right there for us to see and hear, in lonesome eyes and tortured words.

"Before I was on my medications I would get angry really easy," he says. "I don't go out that much unless I absolutely have to. So I sleep. Which is part of the actual syndrome. If I hear, if I, I can take control...if I'm in a controlled environment, I can take loud noises, but Fourth of july is out, is out of my lifestyle now because of the explosions."

But the majority here served in Vietnam.

"Today they'll still talk about when they came back off the airplane, stepped off the airplane and how they were mistreated," Braasch says.

Sure, it's old news. Ancient history.

Try telling that to Chris Siri.

"Even old girlfriends and friends wouldn't have anything to do with me. I graduated from high school in '66, came back in '69 and tried to reconnect with them, but they didn't want nothing to do with me," he said.

For so many of them, it was easy enough to get away.

"That's what I did, I moved to the mountains," Siri said.

Mike Ingamel is out there too.

"I don't know what I'd do if I came into town. I don't know," he says.

And so is Lance Corpuz.

"No I haven't talked to very many people. I'm not even sure if they'd understand me if I talked to them," Corpuz says.

He lives in the woods. Says he came here with nothing but the clothes on his back.

On this day he got a new tent and clothes...and something to smile about.

"Socks! I got underwear! Don't have to go commando anymore!" he says.

Just like that...happy, with a full belly... he goes off to disappear.

"We live in the woods...dont have to worry about the rest of society rubbing off on me," Grant Wonsey says. "I got my own way of life and I'd just as soon stay that way."

Wars come and go. Generations come and go. And the world keeps turning. But the scars of men like Grant Wonsey are burned into them like tattoos.

"Like I said it's a tough package to carry," Wonsey says. "After you been there. All we can do is be alone and think about things."

Does he still think about it?

"All the time! What people don't understand is you know, when you take a man's life, you take everything that he is ever going to encounter again from that moment on<" Wonsey says. "That's the burden you have to carry. Any interaction he was ever going to have you brought to a screeching halt. You're the one who has to carry that burden."

Maybe we can do better with the new batch coming home...maybe.

If not, the wet green woods near Forks will fill up again...with ghosts.

"Voices for Veterans" is a non-profit organization.

Its mission is to help homeless and needy veterans on the North Olympic Peninsula.