July 29, 2014, ALGIERS POINT, New Orleans – Hazy rain clouds settled overhead as the tides of the ever-flowing mighty Mississippi River bashed on the shoreline at Algiers Point. With a crowd of gathering Marines focusing their eyes on small silhouette in the distance, their voices raised in excitement and cheering as the wearisome paddler made his way to them.
Former Marine Cpl. Joshua Ploetz, a combat veteran, began paddling his approximate 2,575-mile journey down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Itasca, May 19, to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress for veterans currently caught in their own internal war.
Ploetz was surprised July 25, 2014 when he paddled around the turn at Algiers Point and was greeted by a large group of Marines, sailors, veterans and family members waiting on the shore of the Mississippi to cheer him on.
“We wanted to support his efforts,” said Cpl. Christopher J. Cox, an adjutant’s clerk with 4th Marine Logistics Group. “It was great to see the shock on his face because he didn’t know we were going to be down there.”
The planning for the canoe trip began two years ago, when Ploetz outlined his stops and how much food he was going to take. He also estimated how hard he would have to paddle to make his 50-mile a day goal.
As Ploetz reached the shoreline, tears began to form not only in his eyes, but in the eyes of those gathered as well.
“Eight years ago I got out of the Marine Corps and I thought everything was going ok, just like everything I ever did, you push on,” said Ploetz. “I started drinking a lot, got married, divorced and struggled a lot. Then I finally met a guy who wrote a book about traveling down the Mississippi River. He always told me ‘It’s like a vision quest for spirituality, where you find yourself on the river’, and I think coming out of the Marine Corps, I was trying to find myself.”
Ploetz spoke to the assembled group, recounting stories of his time in the Marine Corps. He also offered advice to the Marines about life after military service.
“Keeping yourself busy was the biggest thing I found,” said Ploetz. “Trying to find things that I could connect with, because you connect with the Marine Corps and that’s a part of your life that you can’t have back. You can’t just put your cammies back on.”
Many of the Marines clung to the advice Ploetz gave, and were moved by the sentiment of the passing of knowledge from one Marine to another. Ploetz, a former Marine corporal, is still fighting for veterans.
“He is pushing it to the limit. He said when he was done with this he was also going to run the Marine Corps marathon,” said Cox. “Even though he is not in uniform anymore, he is still out there turning it on. For me, being a corporal, it’s amazing to see that it doesn’t matter if you get out or if you stay in, you will always be in the fight.”