PITTSFIELD -- Stomachs full after Christmas dinner in the dining hall at Soldier On, military veterans Jeff Harman and Ira Studley laconically shared the perilous road that made their simple meals worth savoring.

No one comes to Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that provides resources and supports for homeless veterans, without a problem to overcome, the day's chef, Navy veteran Mike Davidson said.

On Christmas Day, Harman and Studley both said they felt they had escaped death to enjoy this meal.

While finishing with pumpkin pie and chocolate brittle, after a hearty meal of prime rib, Harman, 53, talked about dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts in the years following his discharge from the Navy and reserves after 19 years.

Harman said he was let go because of "politics" and because he was overweight.

"I was 285 when I went in and I left at 285," Harman said.

Studley, 67, said he's been with the Soldier On program since Jan. 23, 2009. The Army veteran, who served from 1962-65, arrived after he hit life's bottom. He was reluctantly divorced, had a gambling addiction, and was homeless after losing his house.

After some thought, Studley said that if he wasn't at Soldier On he'd probably be dead.

Harman said the same was true for him.

However, on Christmas, both veterans said that while they continue to deal with problems, they felt some of the worst is in the rearview mirror and they were putting some distance between themselves and their troubled pasts.

Harman is happily serving as a baker at Soldier On, fulfilling a similar role he assumed in the Navy. He said he's submitted an application to be head chef at a Soldier On facility in Agawam.

Studley said he's stopped gambling and embraced Christianity and the church.

There was plenty of friendly chatter, warm gestures and appreciation shared on Christmas by troubled veterans, who were appreciative of a warm meal and friendly embraces from colleagues who understand life carries challenges.

"I would rather be here rather than anywhere else," said Navy veteran William Relation, who served from 1975-79.

Davidson, the cook, said he expected to serve 100 instead of the 65 to 85 meals he normally serves.

Army veteran Robert Adams was one of several volunteers lending a helping hand in the kitchen.

He said he was treated for alcohol addiction last year, but now has his own apartment through the federal Section 8 program, and is enjoying a better life.

Through life's darkness, joys became sweeter, something Adams said he understood and many other veterans knew well.

Pittsfield American Legion Post 68 also had a well-attended dinner for veterans. 

To contact John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6240