by Emily Neie, Development and Communications intern
In December of 1968, David Pendleton joined the US Navy when he was 17 years old. He completed three assignments on three different ships, ending his naval service after a tour aboard the USS Holland in Rota, Spain. When David returned home in 1972, the United States had exploded into political chaos. The Vietnam War was nearing its end after years of anti-war outcry, and young men returned home to a hostile, anti-military atmosphere. Despite the political difficulties heaped on top of his exhausting years of service, David was excited to return home. Now 22, he stepped off the plane at the Philadelphia airport hopeful about what his new life as an American veteran would bring. A beautiful young girl stood at the end of the exit ramp, smiling at him as he caught her eye. He walked towards her, filled with energy. His eagerness dissipated, however, when she strode towards him and spat in his face.
From then on, David hid his veteran status, only talking about his naval service when in the company of other veterans. The transition back to civilian life proved difficult for him, and, like many other veterans, he drifted from job to job—jewelry making, stone carving, even working as a rodeo clown. Finally, he settled on corn roasting.
David knew he wanted to make a business out of roasting corn, but he was unsure what he needed to be successful. Seeking guidance, he contacted Sgt. Justin Harris, President of Food Trucks for Freedom Inc., an organization dedicated to helping veterans transition back to civilian life by providing entrepreneurial opportunities. In December of 2013, Food Trucks for Freedom was still a fledgling organization, and Justin did not have financial resources to help David. David was determined, though, and called Justin every week to tell him about his progress while Justin offered him free advice and encouragement. It wasn’t until David bought his first corn roaster that Justin took him seriously—David had used $1,000 to buy a broken down roasting machine, restored it to working order, and obtained the necessary permits to park his machine and begin selling corn. These accomplishments were even more significant considering David was homeless. “When we started Food Trucks for Freedom our mission was to help veterans transition back into civilian life and become successful entrepreneurs,” said Justin. “We never expected to have the opportunity to change the life of homeless veterans.”
David recently closed a loan with PeopleFund so that he could purchase additional corn roasting machines and expand his business. For him, corn roasting is not just employment: it’s therapeutic. He understands the challenges that many veterans face when dealing with crowds, and the anxiety that often accompanies a history of military service. Currently, he is selling corn in locations around New Braunfels, but his long term goal is to create an agricultural program for other Texas veterans in need. “God has been good to me. I feel the more goodness we have in this world, the better,” said David.