Share this article

print logo

Iraq vet finally catches break after hard times in and out of service

David M. Dehler had a rough life from the start.

His father, a soldier serving in Germany, fell in love with a German woman and a year later Dehler was born.

But Dehler's father, who was from Buffalo, returned to the United States before his birth in February 1985 and it seemed they would never know each other.

His mother, Sabine Dehler, remained in Germany with her infant son. But a couple of years later, she again found love and married an American soldier. The family moved to Colorado.

Tragedy hit hard in 1993 when Dehler's mother died after a two-year battle with cancer.

Dehler and his stepfather had a falling out and he was placed in foster care.

At 18 years old, he went out on his own. He worked as a land surveyor and later at a Walmart. In the back of his mind, Dehler said he dreamed of joining the military. But the young woman he was dating would not hear of it. She was "anti-military."

Six months after their relationship ended in 2006, Dehler enlisted in the Marines.


David M. Dehler, 32

Hometown: Russelsheim, Germany

Residence: Amherst

Branch: Marine Corps

Rank: Lance corporal

War zone: Iraq

Years of service: 2006-2011

Most prominent honors: Iraqi Campaign Ribbon, Sea Service Ribbon, Humanitarian Ribbon

Specialty: Infantry/anti-tank assaultman


"I joined the Marines knowing that I was going either to Iraq or Afghanistan. My goal was to do infantry and I knew the Marines provided the best training and I wanted to survive," Dehler said.

He arrived in Iraq in March 2008. About a month later tragedy struck.

"We lost a member of my platoon when a truck pulled up to the gate at our station in Ramadi and an improvised explosive device was set off," said Dehler, who was a few hundred yards away from the blast that took the life of fellow Marine Jordan C. Haerter.

And that was just the beginning. Dehler and other members of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, waded into the tensions and dangers of war on a daily basis. During foot patrols in the streets of downtown Ramadi, they proved easy targets.

Dehler downplays the encounters.

"Every once in a while people would take a shot or two at us and run away before we could catch them," he said.

But at other times, the shooter stuck around and engaged in firefights.

"When that happened, it was either him or us," Dehler said. "Let's just say I was glad I made it out alive."

Back in the United States from his deployment, he said he embarked on a prolonged celebration, "partying like I had a new life to live."

When he left the Marines in 2011, he realized something was not quite right with his new life.

"As I got further away from military life, I was failing to adjust back to doing things the old way," he said. "There was no danger or excitement, no fun."

Then his life got really rough.

He lived on the streets of Scranton, Pa., and took drugs. That lasted two years until a friend who had also served in the Marines tossed him a lifeline. Dehler said he grabbed it.

"He offered me a way out and a place to stay," Dehler said of his move to his friend's home in Charlotte, N.C.

There was some improvement.

"I got off drugs but my friend and I didn't see eye to eye and I ended up in Columbia, South Carolina. I stayed in a veterans shelter and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. I had a job and was trying to make my way out of there."

While receiving counseling at the shelter, Dehler caught an unexpected break.

"My aunt found me on Facebook and got in touch with me," he said of his father's sister, Tracey, who lives in the suburbs of Buffalo. "She told me she knew she had a nephew who had been missing for 30 something years."

After she proved to him that they really were related by providing the names of his parents, Dehler became excited that a connection had been established "with a part of my life that I knew nothing about."

He shared his struggles with his aunt and she offered to buy him a bus ticket to Buffalo and provide a bed at her home. He arrived last December just before Christmas when a big snowstorm hit.

"I was sitting at the bus station in the snow."

But he soon came in from the cold.

"I met my cousins, my grandparents, it was interesting and very overwhelming," Dehler said.

He also met his father for the first time.

"To say the least, it was surreal. I didn't know what to expect. When it happened, it was just like meeting a random stranger."

But the father opened his home to him and they lived together for a couple months, before going their separate ways.

Though that didn't work out, Dehler says he is putting down roots for the first time in his life as grown man.

He lives in Amherst and is hoping to buy a home there next spring. He also helped a friend from North Carolina, "who needed a change," move here.

As part of Dehler's therapy for PTSD, he says he avoids stressful situations.

And just recently, he started working for a contractor he says is willing to work with him.

Wanting to mention the company by name out of appreciation, Dehler said he went to Carl Hohmann Roofing & Siding and explained that he was a war veteran and had his struggles. It didn't matter. He was offered a job.

"I like working as a roofer. It's hard work, but I don't have to deal with too many people or a lot of stress."

Living in Western New York, he added, has also been a blessing.

And why is that?

"I see a lot of American flags flying around and it makes me feel comfortable."

There are no comments - be the first to comment