Allen Francis Foley has one thing on his mind, as he travels around Maine taking photographs.

“I say to people, ‘Do you know a veteran? Do you know where that veteran lives? Have you been over to his place to ask if he needs a cup of coffee? Do you ever go to the Veterans Administration? If you go to the VA at Togus in Augusta and walk in the front door, there are men sitting in wheelchairs and there’s not one of them that is under 65. What would happen if you went in there with brownies or Christmas cheer or whatever? You’d be their hero.”

Foley, 69, is on a mission: trying to raise money for homeless veterans and for children’s toys at Christmas time.

He shoots landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes and anything else that he finds compelling, takes the photos to Elm City Photo and Berry’s Stationers in Waterville to get them printed, matted and framed and sells them on his website, www.foleycreations.com. Thirty percent of the sale proceeds goes to Homeless Maine Veterans and 10 percent, to the Children’s Christmas Fund. Whatever, if any, profit Foley makes goes right back into materials to produce more framed photos.

If people can not afford to buy them, he also has a GoFundMe page where people can contribute $5, $10, $20, $50, or any amount, to help.

Why is he so immersed in this project? Because he knows homeless veterans, is a veteran himself and understands the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder, which he and many of his friends have. He also understands depression and why so many veterans commit or attempt suicide.

“There are 1.7 million veterans in this country who do not have insurance,” he said. “Sometime during this year, there’ll be 500,000 veterans, both male and female, who will not have a roof over their heads, most of them sleeping on the streets. People do not know the tragic and awful conditions that are taking place for our veterans. I’m here to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’ve got to stop this.”

A West Gardiner resident, Foley grew up in Fairfield, the oldest of five children. He graduated from Lawrence High School in Fairfield in 1966 and attended two different colleges before entering the U.S. Marine Corps. in 1968. He was in Vietnam Nov. 5, 1970, south of Saigon, when a jeep he was a passenger in flipped over and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma nine days before waking up in a hospital. He remembers nothing of the jeep incident.

“The thing I remember, and I don’t know how I remember this, but my body was cold, and from reading my military transcripts, apparently my temperature was, like, 105 or 106. To get that temperature down, they put ice on my body.”

He remained in a Vietnamese hospital a few months before being flown to a hospital in Japan. He stayed there a month and then was taken to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was released from active duty in July 1970 and retired as a sergeant from the Marine Corps in November 1976.

After that, Foley worked in hotel management 30 years, in 22 states around the country. But he suffered with PTSD and acute depression. He attempted suicide twice. It was not until 2007 that a doctor finally listened to him — a psychiatrist at Togus — and he started to heal.

“The military didn’t know anything about brain injuries or PTSD until the mid-1980s and they did veterans a disservice when they didn’t reach out to them. The problem still isn’t solved. We’ve got a president who says he’s going to help veterans. What’s he going to do? Is he going to buy my art? Is Gov. LePage or senators King or Collins going to buy my art? Does it take a little man, a retired Marine Corps sergeant, to stand before a nation and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing for homeless veterans?’ Was it Oscar Wilde who said, ‘Who, being loved, is poor?'”

Foley — a member of Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Marine Corps League — drives all over the state, documenting its beauty with a 5-year-old Sony Mirrorless Digital camera. In addition to knowing he is doing something for those in need, the journey soothes his soul.

“I’m wandering around, taking photos, and I’m trying to escape in a way, from PTSD,” he said. “What a beautiful way — what a beautiful way to express yourself and to give back to people who are crying and are hurting and need help.”

He expects to publish a book of photographs in a few months. He is calling it “Finding Myself in Maine.”

“This is how I find myself. I’m also a poet. I find myself through words, I find myself through pictures.”

Meanwhile, he urges everyone to join him in helping veterans.

“If you know a homeless veteran, call the VA and ask for someone in the homeless department. If you know someone who is troubled or suicidal, make a call, call 911 and get those people help.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.