He was drafted and sent to fight in a war he didn’t believe in. “I was just 19 years old when I went to Vietnam,” Israel tells me. “I saw a lot of poor people there–ain’t much different then where I grew up in rural Mississippi.” But it was the starving children that grabbed at his heart the most. “I couldn’t get the look on their faces out of my mind.” That’s when he started taking food from the military base and giving it out to grateful local villagers–who happened to be linked with the wrong side. “I was trying to hold onto my humanity. I was sick of fighting.”
Then he got caught. He was accused of aiding and abetting the enemy and sent to a military prison before being dishonorably discharged. Which means he would never be eligible for benefits as a veteran. After he was shipped back to the States, he worked hard in construction for years, rebuilding his life. Then, everything changed one day when a levy broke and caused a major flood to destroy his home and everything he owned. “I got into a major depression after that,” he remembers. Israel eventually moved out west to California hoping to start over. But work was scarce, the depression got worse, and he found himself homeless and jobless on Skid Row. “I just pray to God every day to give me the strength,” he tells me as we eat together. “He’s the only hope I got in this world right now.” As we part, he gives me a military salute.