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Except during his darkest days, Delmar Wilson has always had the kind of mind that holds onto dates and details.

Such as the scene outside the Mogadishu airport in Somalia in 1993 when, as a young Marine, he saw for the first time someone killed — hacked to death by machete over packaged meals that Wilson and others from his military aid station had just given out, fueling the bloodshed.

Or a decade later the young widow of a soldier who'd been blown apart in Iraq who demanded to see her husband's body so she could believe he was dead, and whose tiny son wondered aloud at the funeral where his daddy was.

Or aboard a medical transport plane from Iraq to Germany in spring 2007 when Wilson was surrounded by wounded soldiers stacked three high with torn faces, missing limbs and third-degree burns over most of their bodies. "You can't unsee that," Wilson said.

He can talk in depth about the deaths of friends and the suffering he was unable to prevent<NO1><NO>; his anguish over young soldiers killed before they'd really lived<NO1><NO>; the deterioration of his own diseased and damaged body through years of military service; the screaming nightmares and sleepless nights.

One day last year, he found himself weeping outside his son's East Bay high school.

<NO1><NO>He would try to take his own life that day. But in the year and a half since<NO1><NO><NO1><NO>, Wilson has begun to understand how he and thousands of other returning veterans found themselves living in emotional limbo, unable to leave the war behind yet incapable of rejoining life.

<NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO>"It's like you live in this alternate reality," said Wilson, 39. "It's like you're operating between worlds," except "you're conscious of that fact."

But after many months at The Pathway Home, a nonprofit residential recovery program in Yountville, Wilson has new tools to work through his post-traumatic stress and depression<NO1><NO><NO1><NO>.

"I understand the things that I did and why I did them," he said. "I've shifted consciousness."

During an interview at the Cotati house gifted to him last summer by Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit agency that provides emergency financial and other assistance to veterans and their families, Wilson said he's never wanted to be anything else but a soldier.

He's served with both the Marines and the Army; volunteered four times to go to Iraq, and finally got there after a year at Guantanamo and two years as an honor guard in San Diego; and he fought to stay in the military, despite physical disabilities and constant pain that have severely curtailed his life.

But he has his share of bitterness about the treatment of veterans and the challenges of getting appropriate care.

He still turns to the window to check for the all-clear at the sound of each passing vehicle or aircraft. He avoids stores and crowded places, though he's come to realize not every person is out "to kill me or take advantage of me."

One of his major challenges is knowing it's not possible to find the same intimacy and trust among civilians that one experiences with the brothers who have your back in a war zone<NO1><NO>.

But he's worked hard on acceptance while at The Pathway Home, on coming to terms "with where I am physically." He's learned to work on mindfulness, communication, self-awareness and behavioral tools that ground him in the present.

He finds relief in an occasional golf game, though it means he can't move the rest of the day; enjoys returning to Yountville for Monday night bowling with his Pathway Home comrades; and finds purpose in coaching his 7-year-old son's baseball team.

Wilson also has found an important emotional outlet in caring for numerous houseplants that populate the house.

If he starts to feel overwhelmed, he takes them outside, tills their soil, mists their leaves, and makes sure they're getting direct sunlight.

"I know I'm taking care of something," he said. "It's unconditional. They need someone to take care of them."

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)