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Traumatized veteran returns to Vietnam to find peace: 'I felt that was my purpose'

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Posted at 10:54 AM, Oct 20, 2023

URBANNA, Va. -- Urbanna, Virginia is renowned for its relationship with the Rappahannock River. But this river town also lays claim to one of the most exclusive golf courses you've probably never heard about.

Hidden Greens Golf Club is always empty.

"Well you can see it is never very crowded," Bob Means said. "This is as about as crowded as it gets."

The club is so private membership is reserved for just one golfer. And he never needs a tee time.

"This is therapeutic for me. I get up every morning. That is part of my routine. I get up every morning and play nine holes,” Means said. "When it gets light enough I put on my golf shoes. Sometimes I’m still in my PJs and play nine holes."

Bob Means

The retiree knows every blade of grass and bunker on these links.

He should.

Menas built the nine holes by hand three years ago in a neighbor’s cornfield.

"The shortest hole is 110. The longest is 292,” Means said.

For a game that leaves many who shank and slice in dire straights, Means finds serenity and solace every round.

Means has been searching for both for more than 50 years. For this veteran, the past is ever-present.

"Oh yeah. It brings me back,” Means said while watching his laptop. ”Sometimes I’ll just come in and watch it over and over again.”

The Southern California native enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1964. He was 17 years old.

"It wasn’t like I thought the whole thing out. It was strictly spontaneous,” he said. "I was 5’2’’ and 118 pounds. I was the smallest kid in my boot camp or platoon."

Means shipped off to Vietnam in 1967.

“1967 and 68 were the worst part of the war," Means said about his time overseas. "The stuff they would do would send chills up my back and I was a Marine."

Bob Means

For Means, death arrives without notice.

“I’m out here and I’m realizing I’m done for,” he said. ”I’m waiting to be killed.”

Too many close calls to count and losing friends during his year-long tour took a toll.

“I remember being on a C-130 going from somewhere to somewhere and there were 200 body bags in there. Dead Marines and soldiers,” Means said.

The Marine leaves Vietnam but nightmares follow.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to get over it,” he said. “Suicide was a viable option.”

The horrors finally caught up and Means suffered a nervous breakdown. A semblance of salvation arrived when Means made a bold decision.

In 1992, the veteran moved back to Vietnam. This time, not on a mission of conquest but construction.

"I’ll tell you when I got to Vietnam I felt at home. I didn’t want to leave,” Means said.

Bob Means

He and fellow Marines built polio clinics, orphanages, and maternity wards in a country where fighting once raged and so much was lost.

“We had teams of veterans that would go back. We were all looking for closure,” he said.

A two-and-a-half-year journey confronting inner demons all while helping children.

“I just felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I felt whole again,” he said. “I felt that was my purpose.”

A half-century later Means still wrestles with PTSD but he is making strides.

“Stay close to the people you were in combat with because those because it is those guys who will pull you through," he said.

Writing and publishing his raw memoir “My Soul to Keep” has proven cathartic as well.

“You know we didn’t have a parade when we got home. This book is my parade,” Means said.

Bob Means

While confronting his past, the author has turned a page and taking a swing at healing at the one place where he always finds inner peace.

Hidden Greens Golf Club. 11 acres of bliss.

“We don’t have any rules,” Means said.

It is a golf course Bob Means built on his own while rebuilding himself.

"Lot of fun. Every day I have a lot of fun,” he said.

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Watch Greg McQuade's stories on CBS 6 and WTVR.com. If you know someone Greg should profile, email him at greg.mcquade@wtvr.com.

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