DALLAS — The violence of war can stain a soldier's outlook, and color all the values humans should have for each other.
In Iraq, families have become terrorists, and children murderers.
"The first person that tried to kill me was an 8-year-old boy," said Iraq veteran Arthur Johnson. "And that was just a very tough thing to deal with."
But in the long journey Johnson made through Iraq, that first attempted murder by a a child was just part of the young soldier's burden. Greater still was the residue of the five improvised explosive device blasts he suffered, squeezing his brain.
"The final diagnosis was traumatic brain injury — PTSD — and the loss of hearing in my right ear," Johnson said. "And due to that, I ended up leaving the Army."
For a West Point graduate like Johnson, leaving the Army with PTSD was the same as failure. His colleagues had lost limbs; Johnson had no Purple Heart.
His military career was over, yet he did not feel like a civilian.
"I've met so many of these young people who have come back — particularly those who've graduated from he service academies — and they feel like their life is over," Polly Weidenkopf said.
She is executive director of ReserveAid, a non-profit agency that helps soldiers transition psychologically and financially back to civilian life.
With the encouragement of his advisers at the Veterans Administration and Weidenkopf, Arthur Johnson applied to dental school.
Acceptance was not a slam dunk. He had been turned down before because he had not taken all the prerequisites for dental school at West Point.
Despite that, his advisers encouraged him to personally visit the admissions officers at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas.
"They accepted me that day," Johnson said, "and that's just unheard of."
Even then, the path was not easy. Dental school is not cheap.
ReserveAid stepped in to help Johnson with the bills.
Since its beginning, ReserveAid has given nearly $5 million to vets who need help, all sourced from private donations.
"Polly has been an angel," Johnson said of Weidenkopf.
The matronly Weidenkopf admits to becoming an "extra mother" to a lot of the veterans she helps. Many connect with her when they find out she was a master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps.
"These young people are very proud," she said. "They don't want to ask for anything. They want to hang on, because they were taught to be tenacious and hang on until the end."
When the organ cranked up for dental school graduation ceremonies Meyerson Concert Hall last month, there was no asking for anything; just giving.
Arthur Johnson was one of those who received his dental degree. His parents, on the ground floor of the auditorium, were there to applaud him.
Up in the cheap seats was his "extra mom."
After all the pomp and circumstance, Polly Weidenkopf waited in the atrium to give a hug to one of Texas' newest dentists.