Inside the Statesboro YMCA, it's a cacophony of noise.
On any typical morning, the building is full of the whirl of treadmills and the clang of weights being added to the bench-press bar. The friendly banter the patrons exchange as they spot and encourage each other to do one more bench press permeates the building. In the background, televisions tuned to the news complete the symphony of sounds.
Yet in all this chaos, everything seems to stop when a 73-year-old man with a smile that could light up anyone's day walks in. The staff at the front desk stop to greet him, patrons come over to say hello and ask about his day and the room feels a bit brighter with the addition of the presence of Alexander Brown.
Brown is a Vietnam War veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient. He is a regular at the YMCA, and he comes in to work out four days a week.
He started a gym regimen about 27 years ago after he pulled a hamstring doing one of his favorite hobbies — bowling. He went to the gym to see a physical therapist and got inspired to start working out. Brown has been working out consistently since then.
Now at the age of 73, Brown still finds time to work out regularly with his workout partner Ronnie Page. Each day they focus on various muscle groups, from triceps and biceps to their legs and shoulders.
"I'm in pretty good health and that's why I like to work out, to add a few more years onto my life while I'm living here," Brown said.
Brown is well known at the Y and is known to bring various sweets for the staff, including jelly cake, pound cake and sweet potato pie.
Taneshia Jenkins, childcare coordinator at the YMCA, remembers one occasion when she missed getting cake from Brown because she was busy and did not see him. The next time he brought cake, she got the first slice.
"The next time he came in, he made sure he brought me my cake first before anyone else," Jenkins said. "He was like, 'You got to be careful, you're going to miss it.' I can't miss my cake from Mr. Alex. I can't miss that cake."
Jenkins said Brown also takes time to ask all the staff about their day, and when he does not see them, he makes sure to ask if they are all right.
Besides working out, Brown spends his time bowling in leagues all around the area. One day he will be in Savannah, the next Pooler, then at The Clubhouse in Statesboro and back to Savannah. He has been bowling since 1978, and just last week he bowled a perfect 300 game — the most recent of eight perfect games he's rolled in his life.
Brown's bowling average score hovers between 190 and 210, he said.
Brown enlisted in the United States Air Force at18 and became a paratrooper. Growing up poor, the military gave Brown a chance to see the world, he said. He served from 1965 to 1970, and in 1967 he was deployed to Vietnam as part of the Second Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.
"I got 79 jumps jumping out of perfectly good planes," Brown said with a hearty laugh. "Back then when you're young and energetic, you want to do something normal people don't do. I enjoyed it; the only part I didn't enjoy was when I was in Vietnam fighting."
Brown served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, a total of nine months. In those nine months, he was wounded twice and received two Purple Hearts.
He earned his first Purple Heart after an airstrike that his company had called in on combatants across a river fell short and landed on them instead.
Brown and a few others were medevaced, and he spent time recovering in a hospital.
"When I got well a month later and went back to the company, there was all new people. God only knows how many individuals got killed," Brown said.
He earned his second Purple Heart after he was wounded by enemy fire while on a routine mission to disarm perimeter mines.
After his second injury, Brown was sent home in 1969, and in 1970, he left the Air Force.
Life after service
Brown said he had difficulties adjusting back to civilian life after his military experience. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addiction.
It was not until 1986 that he finally got help for his addiction. Since then, Brown has volunteered with Narcotics Anonymous, a non-profit organization that helps individuals fight drug addiction.
"I've lived two lives in one," he said. "Being in recovery, I got a second chance of becoming a better individual. I'm an asset rather than a liability."
For 32 years, Brown has shared his experience with drug addiction to recovering addicts in the hope of guiding them to recovery. He has also spoken at prisons and addiction treatment centers, including Willingway Hospital here in Statesboro.
Through his recovery from addiction, Brown said he also found his way back to religion.
At a young age, he said he stayed away from his religious upbringing, but through his recovery process he reconnected with his faith, and he now works to share this faith with other recovering addicts.
"A lot of so-called cool people, they don't know what it is like to have a drug problem," Brown said. "God has blessed me to be in recovery for a long period of time so I can be able to share my hope with other individuals."
Treatment for PTSD
While Brown overcame his drug addiction, he did not receive treatment for his PTSD until 2004, when he completed a 45-day counseling program provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. To this day, Brown said he still sees a therapist every three to six months to help him work through his PTSD.
Bowling and working out multiple days a week help him to cope and live a normal life, Brown said.
"In order to allow me to live in society and try to be a productive member of society, I need to go out and talk to people and share my inner feelings." Brown said.
Another thing that helps him cope is the friendship he formed with a fellow soldier, who he served with in Vietnam.
Brown met his friend in 1966, and in 2004 they reconnected. Since then, they try to talk on the phone every month, and they visit each other at least once a year. The talk about their time in the military as well as their everyday lives.
When he can, Brown likes to reflect on his military service by visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. He has visited the memorial five times. While at the Wall, he said he likes to sit and talk to the 10 to 12 soldiers who he remembers from his time serving in Vietnam.
"It's hard to explain," Brown said about visiting the memorial. "All your friends are on the wall, and you just want to go and shed a few tears."
Despite the trauma he experienced while serving in Vietnam and his struggles with addiction, Brown has been able to stay positive and has become an inspiration for many, including Jenkins.
"When I get to be his age, I want to be just like him," Jenkins said about Brown. "I want to be able to get up and go to the gym at least four days a week and work out and be as jovial and good as he is."