Iraq vet turns war experience into art for healing

Maximilian Uriarte decided to become a U.S. Marine because he wanted to "experience something crazy" in Iraq.

"And so for me, it was like, 'What's the quickest way I can get to Iraq?' And that is, join the Marine Corps and infantry," Uriarte said. "As soon as I got off that bus... there was a dude screaming in my face. I was like, 'What did I do? This is a terrible idea.'"

You may not recognize Uriarte, but military men and women around the world know the characters he created in his comic strip, "Terminal Lance."

He has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and for some, his message and his drawings have left a permanent mark, reports CBS news correspondent Carter Evans. Like the title of his comic strip, Max is a "Terminal Lance," which means he only achieved the low rank of Lance Corporal. He started sketching when he came back from his first deployment in Iraq, turning his experience in to art.

"I found out there wasn't really anything that accurately represented, sort of, my generation of Marines. It was really geared toward the older generation of the 'oohrah Semper Fi,'" Uriarte said.

Terminal Lance pokes fun at the Marine Corps in a satirical way, whether it's joking about the food or more serious issues like training and promotions. Uriarte initially worried there would be some pushback.

"Every day I thought I was going to get in trouble for it" -- especially when he makes fun of those in command, Uriarte said.

But even retired Marine Corps four-star General John F. Kelly reads Uriarte's comics.

"I was once a Terminal Lance, so I get a little bit more of a chuckle than a lot of people will," Kelly said. "It expresses frustrations, it expresses lack of understanding, it expresses a lot of different emotions, but I think it's almost always spot-on."

No longer on active duty, Uriarte now spends his days sketching every comic by hand, drawing on his own experience to tackle tough issues.

In one strip, Uriarte explained, he "really wanted to talk about the general apathy that your civilian friends back home have toward your Marine Corps experience."

A Memorial Day worth remembering

In the first panel, the main character, Abe, is preparing to join the Marines. The second panel shows shim returning from his first tour of duty.

"And he's telling him, 'I just got back from Iraq. I've had a lot of profound and life-changing experiences.' And his buddy back home is in the exact same spot, looks exactly the same, and says, 'Cool. Did you kill anyone?'" Uriarte said. "Everybody's exactly the same, doing the same things they were when you left."

Ben Marchitell was also a "Terminal Lance" in the Marines. When he was deployed in Iraq, he saw his friend get shot. Back home, he couldn't stop thinking it was his fault.

"Me personally, I didn't feel like I belong anywhere anymore," Marchitell said. "Eventually it turned into drugs and alcohol and other vices. It was a very destructive path."

He then discovered the comic strip and Uriarte's best-selling graphic novel, "The White Donkey," which takes on a serious tone, covering topics like PTSD and suicide.

"Reading everything the author had put down, what Maximilian had written, it helped show me a version of myself that I had been dealing with and battling for the better part of a decade," Marchitell said. "I do truly believe that it wasn't my fault. I know that it wasn't my fault. It really means something to me that I can say that out loud."

"I wanted to tell the story that really represent the reality of how combat deployments can go," Uriarte explained. "And how you can lose people that are really close to you really instantaneously. And it creates a conflict that doesn't have a resolution."

After reading "The White Donkey," Marchitell realized he could turn his life around. He's now studying to be a therapist.

Uriarte hopes civilians will also read the book to get a better understanding of the emotional experience thousands of men and women in uniform bring home from war.

"As it's been voiced to me a lot of times, 'You know sir, I am really glad they don't understand what I've been through,' because if they did, they would have been through it themselves and it's better that they don't know what I am talking about," Kelly said.