Appleton man’s journey from the horrors of war to healing in nature

Appleton man’s journey from the horrors of war to healing in nature


APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) – Nearly 20 years after two tours of duty in Iraq, a Marine veteran is finally finding healing through the lens of his camera.

And in the process, he’s become an exceptional wildlife photographer.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to the outskirts of Appleton to tag along on one of his outdoor adventures. At the Bubolz Nature Preserve, James Overesch gears up for what’s become an almost daily trek into nature.

Wildlife photography has become his passion.

“I just got hooked on it. Like, I think about it every day, it’s all I want to do now,” explains James.

In one regard, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As a child, James loved the outdoors with dreams of becoming a marine biologist.

But that all changed on September 11, 2001, when James watched the twin towers fall on TV in his Xavier High School classroom. At that moment, he vowed to help fight to protect our country’s freedom.

“If it came to that, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to see combat, if I’m being honest I was young and didn’t really expect it,” recalls James.

Within two months, James enlisted.

“My grandpa was a Marine, so the Marines were actually the last branch I looked at because my grandpa didn’t want me to be a Marine, and then I ended up joining and then I became a machine gunner,” says James.

After boot camp and extensive training, James deployed with his unit to Kuwait.

“Waiting for the invasion of Iraq, and that was in 2003,” remembers James.

He arrived in Baghdad on his 19th birthday.

“It still didn’t really seem real at the time, but got pretty real,” says James.

Over the next two years, James served two, nine-month tours of duty in Iraq, experiencing the horrors of war firsthand.

“I mean, if you didn’t hear some kind of small arms fire or some kind of explosion it was either raining or they were celebrating Ramadan, otherwise every day were explosions, we were getting mortared,” recalls James.

James saw friends die, with he himself escaping a number of close calls.

“Too many, yeah. I actually kneeled down on an IED that they didn’t detonate until I got up to walk around a corner,” says James.

After completing his active duty, James spent four years inactive, with plans to pursue a career in physical or occupational therapy.

But he soon realized he had paid a steep price serving this country, beyond PTSD.

“The big thing for me is more my chronic pain issues, G.I. issues, my health has just been kind of a rollercoaster. I’ve been in and out of the clinics and hospitals for years,” explains James.

In 2017, a friend invited James to attend a recreational therapy program for veterans in Idaho. At the end of their rafting excursion, each veteran received a small grant to purchase some kind of outdoor equipment.

“So I decided to put more of my money towards a semi-professional camera and then it just kind of took off from there,” says James.

James loves the challenge of capturing birds and animals in their environment.

“I’ve sat in front of a fox den for 12 hours at a time,” says James.

And taking a snapshot of their lives.

“Sitting right there on that branch, looks like a red squirrel, looks like he’s getting ready for the winter,” says James as he snaps photos.

He then adds, “Finding your subject, finding the animal, their behaviors and then getting that picture and then being able to bring it home, work on the computer and edit it to a way that you saw it but also putting your artistic spin on it.”

Looking at his photos, you can see that James hasn’t just found a hobby, he’s discovered a tremendous talent.

A gift that’s helped him heal.

“They always say that being out in nature has an effect on your health and for me it just takes away stress, depression, it just kind of makes you, for me at least, forget about everything else that’s going on in my life, everything else that’s going on in the world. These animals are all around us but a lot of people just don’t take the time or don’t have the time understandably, and so it’s nice to see these things and be able to share it with other people,” says James.

Moving forward James hopes to continue turning his passion into a career, and he’s launched a website showcasing his incredible photography.

To view James’ photos, visit

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