Wright City

Hidden Heroes: local veteran helps others readjust to society

By Jack Underwood, Staff Writer
Posted 6/8/24

Ryan Petras has been named as the Record's Hidden Hero for the month of June.

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Wright City

Hidden Heroes: local veteran helps others readjust to society


Ryan Petras has been named as the Record’s Hidden Hero for the month of June. Petras is a marine who served in Afghanistan and now spends his time serving veterans with the Marine Corps League.

In 1998, Ryan Petras enlisted in the Marine Corps.

He would spend the next eight years of his life serving in the military, holding duty stations as close as Camp Pendleton in California, and as far as Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. He was in Australia on Sept. 11, 2001 when he was suddenly deployed to Afghanistan.

In the next five years he would return to Afghanistan several times before he left the Marine Corps, but that was only the beginning of what would become a second lifetime of service.

When he left the military, Petras had little interest in joining veterans organizations like the VFW and the American Legion, instead choosing to focus on building his young family.

That all changed when he was directed to the Marine Corps League by an elderly World War II veteran who served as his client while he worked at PNC Bank, Elmer Dapron. Petras attended the Marine Corps League ball at Dapron’s behest and saw an opportunity to continue the service he had started over a decade earlier.

“It was about taking care of veterans, making sure we’re raising money for them when they can’t, and reaching out to the community and getting their involvement,” Petras said.

Shortly after he joined the MCL in Warrenton he took on the position of chaplain, making himself available to area veterans in need. He held that position for two years before he moved on, increasing his commitment to the league further.

He became a Junior Vice Commandant, then Senior Vice Commandant, then Department Commandant. All while serving on the national public relations committee and a second committee dedicated to serving veterans who were struggling with PTSD and their return to civilian life.

“Those were busy years,” remarks his wife Michelle.

Petras said that the time after a service member’s discharge from the military can be difficult, and many often struggle with depression and PTSD, and he found a purpose in helping them overcome those struggles.

“When you all of a sudden leave that combat, in civilian life, it’s not there, and that’s where a lot of the PTSD that you dealt with in the Marine Corps, or whatever branch, really comes to a head as a civilian,” Petras said. “I have found that grabbing that individual and talking to them and showing them things like the Marine Corps League, … You’ll see a lot of times where their whole mentality will change.”

Petras admits he has had his own struggles with mental health since he left the corps, but that perspective has allowed him to be a rock for those who have been in need.

One evening in 2019, that experience was invaluable. He received a phone call from a number he did not recognize, at 2 a.m.

The man on the line said he was a veteran and a truck driver in Florida, and he had a pistol in his hand.

“He said he had a pistol in his hand, he said it was loaded. He was ready to end it and he didn’t want to be here on this Earth anymore,” said Petras. “I got very aggressive with him on the phone, just like he would have received in the Marine Corps and I told him, look, I’m done talking to you until you put the pistol away, take a few moments, go put the pistol away, come back and talk to me.”

The line was silent for several minutes before the man returned.

When he did, he and Petras spoke for another three hours, about life, their struggles and the Marine Corps League. By the end of the conversation early that morning, Petras had connected him to the local chapter where he lived in Florida and his condition was improving.

He hoped that would be enough, and did not expect to hear from the man again, but was comfortable with what he was able to do to help.

Some time later, at a league meeting here in Warrenton, a stranger arrived and said he was looking to join the detachment.

“He said he wanted to join our detachment, so he came up to me and gave me his name and I said ‘wait a minute, are you from Florida?’ He said ‘yeah, I’m a truck driver’ and I said ‘it’s nice to meet you, I’m Ryan’ and he just broke into tears,” Petras said.

The two men embraced as brothers just like they were that evening over the phone, and both continue their lives today.

Petras’ work with the Marine Corps League and other community organizations continues today. When he is not with the MCL he works as a Fraud Investigator for Enterprise Bank and Trust, serves as the president of his Homeowner’s Association, attends Westlake Church of Christ, and coaches his daughter, Abigail Grace’s U10 soccer team.

“Good Lord, you said there’s a reason I put you through some trials. There’s a reason I wanted you to deal with this aggression and this depression, but I’m going to bring you out of that because now you can go show other people how to come out of that pit, and so that’s where I’m at,” Petras said.

Hidden Heroes, Ryan Petras