Thursday, October 25, 2007

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Vet helps fight personal battles
Marine witness to devastating attack now helping fellow wounded warriors

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
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First published: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

COLONIE -- Darrel Franklin saw the world change 24 years ago today in Beirut. It ended up changing his own world, too.

The Marine from Arbor Hill was standing guard in Lebanon at 6:22 a.m. Oct. 23, 1983, when a suicide bomber detonated a truckload of explosives at the Marines' barracks, killing 241 U.S. military members.

The lance corporal not only survived the era's first major terrorist attack, but also the personal difficulties that followed.

He got a job as a mail carrier, but battled post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism for years. Now Franklin, 44, has a second career helping a new generation of wounded warriors at Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany.

Working in the center's drug and alcohol rehabilitation program has made Franklin feel better about the memories of the thunderous blast in Beirut and the friends he lost, he says.

"I found out that by taking my experiences, pains and heartaches and sharing them with other people, I can be a tool for them," he said in his Latham home, which he shares with his wife, Angela, and two daughters.

Franklin's personality mixes black and military pride, and he wants to spend the rest of his life helping young African-Americans and combat veterans. But for Franklin, it's been a long road to rebirth.

He grew up on Colonie Street in Albany with his mother and sister, and always wanted to be a Marine. He signed up at age 17 and left for boot camp four days after graduating from Albany High School.

"School wasn't my thing," Franklin said.

After being assigned to bases in California and Okinawa, Japan, for a year, Franklin volunteered for a multinational peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983. The U.S. had entered Lebanon after Israel invaded the country and a civil war broke out.

Franklin and others made daily patrols around the Beirut region. He endured sniper fire and other attacks from what he believes were Hezbollah fighters. Members of Hezbollah were blamed for the bombing that blew the four-story cinder-block building into rubble and crushed many inside.

Franklin was standing about 400 yards away from the blast, which ultimately caused President Ronald Reagan to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon.

"They shook the ground beneath our feet," Franklin said. He remembers feeling anger, emptiness and a desire for revenge when he saw coffins carrying dead Marines being loaded onto a plane.

Franklin returned to the United States in December 1983. He re-enlisted and got married the next year.

But something was brewing within him. Franklin had trouble sleeping, often waking in a heavy sweat. At a military parade, he hit the ground in a panic at the sound of a cannon shot.

After he got back, he took a job with the U.S. Postal Service. He soon started drinking to numb his anxious feelings.

In 1990, at the urging of both his wife and mother, Franklin got help from the Albany Veterans Center on Central Avenue. He went to individual and group counseling for stress and anxiety.

1Franklin was inspired to go to college after he attended the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Over the next decade, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Sage Colleges, the latter in community psychology and counseling. The VA hired Franklin two months ago.

"I can always trust that he's working with the best interest of the veteran at heart," said Kirsten Danfourth, acting program manager. "His compassion and the work he does definitely stems from his own experience as a veteran."

Franklin says he wants to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who are suffering from similar problems. He says he still lives a "guarded" life.

"I want to let the guys and girls know that you can live with it and be productive," Franklin said. "You face a lot of stuff. It isn't easy. But you can become aware of trigger signs and make changes."

Yusko can be reached at 581-8438 or by e-mail at

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