The former Marine was injured in a roadside bomb. He lost friends in combat, and later, to suicide.
When the Winona, Minnesota, resident returned from the war eight years ago, he was coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, the fallout from a minor stroke and other injuries. Adapting to civilian life proved difficult. Relationships failed, employment was hard to come by and, Ploetz said, he had an overwhelming feeling of being "lost."
Above: Ploetz, smokes a cigarette after setting up camp, while canoeing in the Mississippi River in Donaldsonville, La.
The trip to the Gulf of Mexico would take him 71 days, about 49 of them spent paddling and the remainder resting. Ploetz said he needed every inch of the river's more than 2,300 miles to paddle away the demons of war, or at least calm them a bit.
Above, Joshua Ploetz, with his traveling companion Aleks Nelson, sets up camp after nightfall.
The seed was planted, Ploetz said, for his own "river experience."
Ploetz created a Facebook page, "Paddle Off The War," called to mark his trip and raise awareness of PTSD.
. One of the most memorable moments was a riverside greeting by about 100 uniformed Marines and a live band when Ploetz rounded a bend in New Orleans.
. A large group of U.S. Marines hold signs as they greet Joshua Ploetz on July 25.
Above, Ploetz and Nelson, launch from camp underneath the Hale Boggs Bridge in the Mississippi River in Luling, La., on July 25.
Above, the names of Marine comrades who have died either in battle or after returning home are seen on his canoe.
. "You're going to have your troubles on the river, but just keep paddling," he said. "You'll make it through it."
. His last morning on the river, he read scripture beneath a rainbow that peeked through puffy white clouds overhead. As he paddled his way into the Gulf of Mexico on July 28, he lifted his baton in triumph.
Above, Ploetz rests on a jetty in Venice, La., after reaching the Gulf of Mexico, on a canoe journey that started at the beginning of the Mississippi River with the baton in his hand.
-- Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
AP Video: Former Marine Paddles Away War Stress
Facebook: Paddle Off The War