Former Marine to be honored in DC for service to fellow veterans

SAN DIEGO -- It's an understatement to say San Diegan William "Sarge" Rider is a survivor.

The Vietnam veteran lived through 13 months of one of the bloodiest battles in history. The Battle of Khe Sanh began on Jan. 21, 1968, when forces from the North Vietnamese Army bombed the U.S. Marine garrison located in South Vietnam.

Rider suffered three combat wounds in the ensuing battle -- he was part of the 1/9 Marine battalion that became known as the “Walking Dead,” because for every 100 men who deployed with the 1/9, only a handful survived.

Rider is one of them.

His harrowing experiences -- and the pain of losing so many of his fellow Marines -- left him with depression and extreme survivor's guilt when he returned from the war.

“Heads exploding like a watermelon. Your best friends. How do you rectify that? How do you put that back together?" Rider reflected Wednesday. "And then as a human being, how can you accept the fact that you killed human beings, regardless of your situation?"

But today, Rider uses his experiences to help other war veterans deal with the mental anguish that often accompanies their return home.

Rider is a co-founder of American Combat Veterans of War, an organization that facilitates outreach and safe sharing groups for veterans, and the Director of Veteran Affairs for the City of San Diego.

Now, after more than a decade of providing services for fellow vets, he's being recognized nationally for his work. On Thursday, Rider will travel to Washington D.C., where he'll visit the Vietnam Memorial before being honored at the annual PBS National Memorial Day Concert this weekend.