By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Tom Mayhew was only 6 when he watched his father march his mother down the hall of their El Paso, Texas, home with a rifle pointed at her back. His alcoholic father, who had all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was emotionally and physically abusive. During the Korean War, his father at age 25 had been hard-pressed during an emergency to lead a combat unit. Thirty-two men died under his temporary command.
In a telephone interview, now 59-year-old Ret. Navy Captain Tom Mayhew said, “My father would be considered disabled today (from PTSD).” Because of his father's abuse, Mayhew chose as an adult not to have children because of fearing what he himself might do to any children of his own.
Mayhew went on to join the Army after the Vietnam War and flew helicopters. After leaving, he worked for years in information technology before being offered a Navy Reserve commission as an engineering officer. In 2006, his Reserve unit was mobilized to Iraq. In time, Al-Qaeda insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter and killed the co-pilot, a friend, who Mayhew had talked with only days before. That event and others were life-changing.
He said, “So I came home from Iraq and told my wife I couldn't work in the software business any longer. I returned to the Marines for three more years of active duty. I tried making a difference training young marines and sailors in the combat zone (Afghanistan).” He took an almost 100k annual pay cut to stay.
Today, for a living, he is a private engineering consultant to the Marines. On the side, he's heavily involved helping servicemen and -women overcome what his own father experienced. He's director of Honor Without Limits, a veterans outreach and program of a faith-based organization, Life Without Limbs.
Mayhew said, “We (HonorWithoutLimits.org) recognize the problem these young men and women have returning from combat. They get discouraged and isolated. Due to physical disabilities, many go down the path of pain killers and alcohol abuse.”
His group focuses on help, hope, and honor, he said. For example, he's building a community of veterans to help other veterans; partnering with Life Without Limbs to share the inspiring story of founder Nick Vujicic, who was born limbless; and helping veterans turn challenging life circumstances into something good.
He advised military personnel returning from war: “Stay connected with strong people.”
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