‘The Keeper’ chronicles veteran’s path to recovery

Army veteran George Eshleman set out to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail with one purpose: taking his life.

Eshleman, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, separated in 1993. He lacked purpose, indulged in alcohol and ended a marriage in divorce. Still, he thought he could control his demons. “I was real good at hiding everything for 24 years,” he says. “And that almost killed me.”

In 2015, he lost his only real friend to suicide.

“Something snapped, and I wasn't able to control my feelings anymore,” says Eshleman, a member of American Legion Post 47 in Calhoun, Ga. “I was going down the wrong path.”

That’s when he dedicated himself to his quest: hiking the trail with a name tape to honor his friend. After announcing his intention on Facebook to walk the trail, he received a deluge of requests from people he didn’t know. They were requesting him to also carry a name tape honoring their loved one or friend. Over the next five months, he ended up collecting 363 name tapes, which he still carries with him today.

“No one knew I did not plan of coming off that trail,” he says in the new Be the One podcast from The American Legion. But on the trail Eshleman found other veterans who provided help, camaraderie and support.

“I just submitted to what the trail was and what the reality of Be the One is — you are not alone,” he explains. “Once you can accept that and see it for what it is, it will save your life.”

His story is told in the new movie, “The Keeper,” which debuts on Memorial Day.

“Everyone has something going on in their life,” he says. “You know this world spins around fast in space, and things get knocked out of whack. If people can walk away from the movie, understanding to just reach out. No one can handle this all by themselves.”

To hear Eshleman’s incredible story, as well as more than 240 other podcast episodes from The American Legion, visit legion.org/tangoalphalima. 

This episode is the ninth in the Be the One series. The others:

Part one: Marine Corps veteran Waco Hoover, who oversees the Be the One strategy, talks about its next phase. “We’re doing an extensive amount of research and also looking for suggestions from our community about who we should be aligned with,” he said. “We have to have a conversation about this issue, this topic.”

Part two: Air Force veteran Dr. Regan Stiegmann discusses how lifestyle medicine can play a role in the reduction of veterans who die by suicide.

Part three: Dr. Ruth Moore is a survivor of suicide, which she attempted after leaving the Navy in 1987 following Military Sexual Trauma assaults. After earning her Ph.D. in Mind-Body Medicine, she now helps veterans and others dealing with trauma and related issues.

Part four: Former Army Apache helicopter pilot Adam Marr, a member of American Legion Post 12 in Dothan, Ala., shares how he has helped organize, operationalize and advocate for innovative solutions to the veteran mental health and suicide crisis since 2015.

Part five: Former Navy SEAL Marcus Capone found relief in psychedelics for his post-service transition issues after a “downward spiral” of seven years. Now, Marcus and his wife, Amber, are helping other veterans facing similar struggles.

Part six: Marine Corps veteran Tim Jensen recalls his military service, downward spiral and connecting with Grunt Style that led him on a path to healing.

Part seven: Marine Corps veteran Juliana Mercer discusses her work to support veterans, using psychedelic therapies for PTSD symptoms and advocacy for MDMA-assisted therapy.

Part eight: Retired Navy SEAL Jason Redman has mastered the “art of getting through tough times.” He discusses resilience, leadership and more.

There are more than 240 Tango Alpha Lima episodes for veterans, servicemembers and others.

The next Be the One episode will drop June 1. All episodes are available in both audio and video formats here as well as on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel