NINEVEH — On this Veteran’s Day, we’re not only thanking those who served — and continue defending our country. We’re sharing the story of healing battle scars, both hidden and visible, from being on the frontlines of freedom.
This story takes us to Johnson County.
When it comes to outdoor adventures Nick Bennett and his son Eli have done it all. However, fishing in Nineveh means quality family bonding.
“That’s why we love this spot,” Nick Bennett said. "There’s not a whole lot of people out here.”
This fishing trip comes with fatherly advice and other feelings, that are cast beyond fishing.
Nick served in the Marine Corps for eight years of active duty and four years in the reserves.
He said he comes from a military family.
“Both of my grandfathers were military vets," Nick Bennett said. "My cousin Tonya — who survived 9-11 in New York (served). It was my time to go."
After 9/11, Nick reenlisted and went overseas after taking time to raise his kids as a stay-at-home father.
“We were in a little town called Mahmudiya,” Bennett said. “It was called the triangle of death.”
Nick insisted on going out in the field on Veterans Day in 2004.
“I worked in what’s called an internet café," Bennett said. "And that’s where we had all of the computers and phones, so guys could communicate with the family back home."
Like any Marine does, he followed orders from his sergeant.
"He asked for a piece of cleaning gear. And so, I got up and got in front of the Humvee. I heard a whistle off of my left shoulder and I knew it was big," Bennett said. "I knew what it was, and I knew I wasn’t coming home.”
A 107-millimeter Chinese rocket sent shrapnel flying, which blasted Nick.
He said with tears in his eyes, “They put me in the back of the Humvee and I kept telling the guys, 'I’m just tired…. I just want to go to sleep.' And they were like, you can’t.”
Nick continued saying “Dan Miller, who’s the company ‘gunnery’ at the time. He saved my life. Because I was gone and you know, I don’t remember it, but he hit me hard enough to bring me back.”
The injuries he sustained were extensive. Shrapnel hit his shoulder and back.
“They (doctors) said you could actually put your hand through my leg that day,” Bennett said.
The force from the blast tore apart his hand.
“I’ve got a piece of my right hip, underneath my left thigh, in my left hand," Bennett said.
Physical recovery took two months in hospitals, but mental recovery took even longer.
“I went from you know this tough Marine, who thought he could take on the world to somebody who I thought was broken and useless,” Bennett said.
It wasn’t until eight years later, during a Wounded Warrior Project event, that Nick said could finally share his story with his family.
“I put my hand on my little girl’s knee and was like ‘are you ok with this?’ And I was worried because I had walked away from my kids, and I was worried about if she was going to reject me as I rejected them," Bennett said. “But she said yes, she’s good with it. And so I told the story, and me and my little girl healed that day and I tell everybody when I got off the sailboat walking on the dock, it was like a brand-new path that had opened up.”
Wounded Warrior opened more than outdoor fun. It closed gaps in family relationships for Nick’s family, including his relationship with his son.
“I think it’s just peaceful that he’s here with us,” Eli Bennett said.
These moments of peace bring more depth than the fishing lure sink.
“I’m just thankful for everybody who put me back together," Bennett said.
Now on this Veteran’s Day, he has this message for other vets like him.
“Welcome home, and just let you know how much you’re loved and appreciated for all you did and it’s not a sign of weakness asking for help,” Bennett said.
It’s bite-sized conversations that go beyond the fishing and help bond a veteran father, with his family.
Nick enlisted and made it up to staff sergeant and he was medically discharged in 2007.
Gunnery Sergeant, Dan Miller, who sent Nick into the field. WRTV connected with him over zoom and he spoke about the healing he’s found after reconnecting with Nick years after the bomb hit.
"As a leader of Marines, I take it very seriously," Miller said. "You know, here it is this young man had been torn apart and I felt very responsible for him. And I hadn't seen him (again) since he was laying on the ground bleeding out. And we started crying and we talked and we sat down and we started talking and he said. You know, I have to let you know that.”
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