War vets, some with PTSD, finding peace in picking up a guitar

ST. LOUIS --  Every Monday night, a group of friends in St. Louis pick up their guitars and play -- in an auditorium, in hallways, and even in a bowling alley.

Tender Lewis has been coming for two years. He said, “For me it's like an emotional thing. It just can calm me down."

 “I went from being suicidal to loving life again,” she added. “It's done a lot of good things for me." 

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Tender Lewis playing the guitar.
CBS
 If you're wondering what strumming a guitar has to do with turning lives around, these men and women are war veterans. Most have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  For Lewis, it was so severe she is now medically retired.

Lewis said, “The medication I was taking I hardly have to use any more.”

She attributes that to this program.

Joe Oberender served two tours in Iraq where he found and cleared roadside bombs. He said of the program, “I always tell people there's much more that we're doing here than playing guitar."

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CBS
 “I went from being in charge of things and doing something that I felt was of the utmost importance to roofing,” Oberender said. “There was something missing, and it took me a while to realize that what was missing was making a difference.”

Now he's making a difference again. He's a volunteer teacher for Six String Heroes at the St. Louis VA hospital. So far, more than 200 veterans have come through the eight-week program. Most had never picked up a guitar before coming. 

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Joe Oberender, left, teaches a fellow vet in the guitar program.
CBS
 Konrad Faries served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he would like to become an instructor.

Faries said, “I challenge anyone to pick up a guitar and learn at least two songs and tell me it doesn't do something positive for you.”

Oberender added, “Music lets you speak in ways that words can't and maybe that's part of what's helping people out here.”

Through music and friendship, these veterans of war are finding peace. 

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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