War, ghosts and helping local veterans

Maurice Martin is a student who has used his past as a veteran to start a second life at City College as director of the campus’s chapter of Veterans for Peace.

“He has a tremendous heart,” said J. Allan Ruhman, a Vietnam veteran that met Martin three years ago. “At times it’s hard to imagine he can give so much of himself to others given his own life trials.”

Mental illness, homelessness and drug addiction were some of the trails faced by Martin.. These experiences are what allow him to help veterans recover from pain he felt so vividly before.

“You can’t read about it in a book, movies do it no justice, speaking of it in stories gives no clue to the horror.” Martin said.

Martin was born in Chicago and adopted by a couple in their 60’s, both strong figures in the civil rights movement. While his parents worked, he was shuffled between family members.

He found his niche in martial arts but struggled with what he thinks was undiagnosed mental illness.

“It led to my parents and the law to thinking that the Army was a better choice for me. John Wayne movies, the cool uniform and the promises that the recruiters made … got me in,” Martin said.

It’s the same kind of glorified picture of war that he hopes to steer others away from now as he speaks to middle and high school students through the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities and the Education Not Arms Coalition.

Martin was 17 when left for South America. He survived his tour but did not return unscathed.“You’re out in the middle of nowhere with equipment to take on just about anything the world has to offer,” Martin said. “…Throw in a little fear, a dash of anger, and retribution and it leaves you with little to hang onto your humanity.”

Martin found as a stunt man and as security for a number of major music acts and tours. He traveled the country as a successful martial arts tournament fighter. Along the way he became a father.

He lost it all in a “long, agonizing time span” when trauma from the war became too much to bear.

Stays in state institutions and jail, the drugs and alcohol became part of Martin’s lifeuntil “the nightmares came bleeding through the high.”

The end came in the form of a police escorted ambulance heading towards a VA hospital.

“I was found hiding in some bushes and holding a knife, ready to pounce on anyone who didn’t care about what I went through,” Martin said.

With the help the unlikely trio, his ex-wife and two ex-girlfriends, Martin finally got help.

It’s the kind of second chance  Martin hopes to help others grasp.

“I came to school to learn to ask better questions and not so much in search of answers,” he said.

Now, Martin is an Honors student and Treasurer for Phi Theta Kappa, and member of B.E.A.T.

But it’s City’s student chapter of Veterans for Peace that is most important to him.

The organization, consisting of veterans of different wars, is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the consequences of war while offering alternatives.

“We create a safe harbor. We provide support and referrals for our veteran students while not leaving our veterans in the civilian community on the streets,” Martin said.

Veterans for Peace makes an effort to offer access to clean water,  shelter, health care, mentoring and jobs. They also hand out ponchos, back packs, and sleeping bags to the homeless and offer an Adopt a Veteran program.

These efforts includes a partnership with Amikas, a helping house for homeless veteran women, and working to bring a Workers Rights Center to campus.

Martin is a SDCC Workers Rights Center Intern with AFT and the Employment Rights Center. He also works in prison ministry, inmate reentry and mental health service programs.

Flipping what was painful over on itself is the only way Martin has been able to release the pain of his past and save others while also saving himself.

“I know where the pot holes are and which roads will cause the least harm and danger… I can point the way,” said Martin.

d “Sometimes just knowing you are not alone makes all the difference,” he said.