CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- During the mid-1960s, with war raging in Vietnam, Ben Gryctko felt like he had a military obligation and knew he was going to serve.
At 21, the college graduate joined the Marine Corps in 1966. The Pennsylvania native witnessed the Tet Offensive and lost friends during his 13-month tour.
“When PTSD hit me. I don’t think anyone comes back from combat that they don’t have some form of it," Gryctko.
He would earn a Bronze Star for rescuing a Vietnamese family from a burning home.
“You went into it with your eyes wide open and thankful that you came out on the other side okay,” he said.
After the war, he worked for Johnson and Johnson. But three years ago the veteran found himself in one of the most challenging moments in his 77 years.
“In December 2019 my life had been in a downward spiral,” Gryctko said. “It was like a tornado where they lose everything.”
Snowballing personal pitfalls lead to homelessness. Gryctko turned to the V.A. which referred him to Liberation Veteran Services.
“It was like an oasis in the desert,” he said. “It provided you with a warm, secure environment. I can’t put it into words. It was a lifesaver for me.”
The nonprofit shelter on Hull Street aids veterans hanging on by a thread.
CEO Jay Patrick said some veterans may be too prideful to accept help. Patrick said Liberation Veteran Services (LVS) wanted to break that stigma.
“We don’t want to strip you of your identity as a veteran. We want to give you your dignity back," he said.
At LVS employment training, mental health and substance abuse services, and temporary housing help veterans like Ben Gryctko regain a solid footing.
“Ben is the type of person that is so easy to love. So easy to love,” Patrick said. “You can’t imagine a guy like that to fall on hard times.”
Fletcher Johnson, the Director of Advancement at LVS, called Gryctko a model client.
“We believe the word homeless and veteran should never go together,” Johnson said. “The fact that they served our country for us means that they need all of the services that we can get around them.”
Since opening in 2013, LVS has helped nearly 600 veterans.
“They find a sense of community. A sense of fraternity. A sense of camaraderie,” Patrick said.
Ben Gryctko was welcomed with open arms at LVS for 13 months during COVID.
“I knew I was going to have my basic needs covered,” Ben Gryctko said.
Early in March, Gryctko celebrated one year in his new apartment in Chesterfield. A home he can call his own.
“What better way to do it than help a population of veterans who have already shown us that they love this country and they want to serve this country so we’re here to serve them,” Patrick said.
Marine Corps veteran Ben Gryctko will be the first to tell you how he relishes his second chance.
“It was a new chapter in life. That is the way I look at it and thank God I am here,” he said. “The past is past. I can’t change that. I can learn from it. And grow from it. Just appreciate every day one day at a time and enjoy life.”
Learn more about Liberation Veteran Services here.
Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email email@example.com.
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