Vietnam veteran uses his struggles to help others overcome theirs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It`s been 50 years since the United States first sent ground troops into Vietnam. A generation of veterans still struggles to come to grips with the horrors of war.

"Sometimes it seems like it`s another world," Glen McKnight said.

Like many soldiers sent to fight in Vietnam, McKnight was only 18-years old in the spring of 1970 when he shipped off.

Wounded by shrapnel in a rocket attack, he spent 16 months in the hospital before returning to life in America.

"I felt like I couldn't really talk about it too much," McKnight said. "I kinda bottled it up and I felt like people really didn't want to hear it."

McKnight says he soon sought comfort by drinking. And he says he often became angry when he got drunk.

"When I got wounded, one of the guys was setting right next to me, he got his head blown off," McKnight recalled. "He was my best friend. The same thing hurt me and brought me home, it took his life. For a long, long time that used to be what I got really, really angry about."

For 25 years, McKnight says he was an alcoholic. His anger ended his first marriage and when his second wife threatened to leave him, he finally sought help. But it took another 10 years of being sober before he recognized a connection to traumatic stress he suffered in Vietnam.

"I set there and recorded my whole time, everything I could remember," he said. "I told myself the story. I cried and balled and I let loose of a whole lot of garbage. It just really hit me that I had bottled up a lot of stuff."

McKnight became a leader of Alcoholics Anonymous and other counseling groups. At age 55, he returned to college and now works as an addiction counselor at the Kansas City Rescue Mission.

"Somewhere along the line it hit me that I need to help my brother out," McKnight said. "There's guys out there just like me. They need help. They need to know there's hope, there's a way out of that situation."

Homeless shelters like the Kansas City Rescue Mission seem to have an inordinate number of veterans. And McKnight believes his personal experience makes him uniquely qualified to help them.

"There are veterans here right now in their late 50s and early 60s that I'm trying to shine that hope to them," he said. "You don't have to be a drunk the rest of your life."

And by counseling brother to brother, McKnight believes he can help other veterans find the path home one person at a time.

McKnight says it was not unusual during the Vietnam war for the army to bring alcohol out to troops fighting in the field.