Marine veteran travels cross-country on journey to healing

Wade Spann went to the other side of the world to fight for his country in the Iraq War. But last year, the 34-year-old Marine veteran took a journey of a different kind: towards healing.

Spann is part of a new generation of veterans-- one of many young men and women in their 20s and 30s who are living with the scars of war, while trying to fit back into the world at home after serving in the military. 

Last year, Spann hit the road. He went cross-country on a journey to healing. 

"I went to New Jersey, to Maine, to New York, to Pennsylvania, to Ohio," Spann told FOX 5's Bob Barnard.

And he didn't stop there. Span traveled through the Midwest and the Great Plains, from Colorado to Montana to California. In all, it was a 15,000-mile journey-- all to reconnect with his Marine buddies. 

"I didn't want to wait till we were 60 or 70," he explained, "so I made the effort to do it now."

Spann, who grew up in Burke, Va., suffered a traumatic brain injury in Fallujah in 2004, when his unarmed humvee was blasted by a roadside bomb. 

Thirteen years later, still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, Spann decided to reach out to his Marine buddies to ask them some questions. 

"I didn't go into like, 'Hey, what's the most traumatic thing you've experienced?' but more like, 'What brings you happiness? Where do you see yourself? What advice would you give a military veteran coming out of the military nowadays?'" Spann said.

Along the way, he connected with John Staples, his best friend from the Marines. Spann found him living in Youngstown, Ohio, and they hadn't seen each other in 11 years.

"It was powerful. You know, he was emotional. I was emotional," Spann remembered. "It was good to see him. I know he still needs to get some help and needs to get some care. He just needs to be more willing and understanding that we're there for him, and that he deserves it."

Throughout the journey, Spann also experienced a great sense of loss when he visited the Wyoming gravesite of Marine Lt. Shane Childers, who was the first casualty of the Iraq War. Lt. Childers was in Spann's battalion, and he was only about 400 meters away from him when he was killed on the morning of the invasion. 

"Personally, that left an endearing mark in my life. And when I was in Colorado, I made the decision to drive up north to Wyoming where he was laid to rest," Spann remembered. 

Some of the graves he visited were those of friends who lost the war with themselves. One of his Marine friends from Erie, Pa. took his own life in 2008. 

"As Marines, you're not supposed to quit, and I felt like he turned his back on us," Spann said. "But I can't put myself in his shoes, and I can't let that bring me down."

That's part of the reason the George Washington University graduate left his job in IT sales last year to embark upon his three-month odyssey. 

It filled me with purpose, and filled me with an understanding that, you know, I might be looking for help and searching for meaning and purpose, but other guys are searching for it, too."