Having survived two tours of duty in Iraq, and having been involved in some of the fiercest fire fights in Fallujah, the marine whom I met about three years ago in a bar in New Hampshire returned home missing not just the lower portion of both of his legs, but according to everyone who knew him, he returned missing a piece of his soul.
I met this man quite by accident in a small bar in Dec. of 2004 because I happened to be in the same little hole in the wall as he just before he was going to be shipped overseas. He was smartly dressed in fatigues, neatly pressed, and had that military way of speaking when addressed, with the annoying habit of answering every question with "Yes Sir!"
Trying to decipher as to the reason why someone so young would want to run off to fight in what I felt even then was a false war, his reply was the usual standard one for those who have been indoctrinated into the faith. That it wasn't his place to question the legalities of a given conflict, it was only his job to go and protect America. I wrote a piece about our conversation back then, and how we promised to keep in touch, so I would know that he'd made it back alive.
Before he left, he actually took me to his mother's house, who promised to make sure that I knew of his home coming, so we would have the chance to meet up again. And meet up again we did.
When this honorable man got back from Iraq, he was missing a third of his left leg, and three quarters of his right. Not given much over to complaining, it was sad to see the eyes that had been so sure and so strong just the year before, now having that glazed over and hollow look of those who are haunted by visions of death and destruction often reveal.
Starting out in a wheelchair, he waited patiently for it to be his turn to be fitted for prosthetic devices, but as time wore on, and the waiting list for him to be flown to Walter Reed became longer, he sort of resigned himself to the fact that he'd be sitting in that chair for awhile, or using the crutches so generously offered by the VA in New Hampshire.
During the time that he waited, he lost the love of his life, which often happens in these types of situations, along with his ability to keep an apartment, and so he moved back in with his mother.
I still remember the last time that I saw him, because it was snowing and he wanted to go to the bar where we met, but it was snowing so hard that he couldn't push his wheelchair through he building drifts, and so, of course, I had to do the pushing. No easy task, we trudged ( or rather I trudged, he sat giggling at my feeble effort at heroics) until we made our way there, vowing to taxi it on the way back. As the night wore on, he became somewhat morose, most likely due to the copious and generous flowing of inebriates, but as his eyes became infused with that look of which I spoke, I asked him whether or not he would have done it all the same way were he to have the opportunity to simply walk away this time.
He told me that he would run as far and as fast to Canada or any other country he could, and would encourage everyone to do the same. That what he had seen and done he would not wish on anyone, and had it been for the protection of his country, then he would have felt differently. But he knew, as did many of his fellow soldiers, once they were over there, that the entire affair was a sham. That no one had any idea of what it was they were attempting to accomplish, and that the powers that be were more interested in guarding the oil fields than they were in trying to rebuild the infrastructure that the Bush Administration had so shockingly and awe inspiringly blown sky high. As the night became late, I wanted to take him back to his mother's house, but he insisted on staying, assuring me he'd hitch a ride with one of the good fellas from the neighborhood. I made sure that he had my email and my cell number so he could keep in touch, and we could get together again.
That was the last time that I ever saw him. Life being fluid, it was time for me to move on, and before I left Manchester, I tried to stop in and see him, but his mother didn't know his whereabouts, and so I left her my email once more, extracting the usual promises to keep in touch. She promised this to me, and before leaving, told me that my friend's situation was getting worse, as depression and suicidal ideation had set in, but not to worry, as he was getting medications for this new condition. But one can always tell when another is putting on the bravest of faces, when the reality of the situation has yet to sink fully in, and I left New Hampshire troubled that no one was paying any attention to this man's plight.
Friday past, I received the email that I knew would come eventually after months of speaking back and forth electronically with this woman. I never could get him to write to me, to him, life had become little more than a jumble of blurring pain, and the bottom of an empty glass. And so it came as no surprise to learn that he had finally decided to end it all, by overdosing on the very pills they had given him to ease his pain. He took all of them. Not by accident. You don't accidentally overdose on a newly filled prescription. They're going to bury him this week, but alas and to my chagrin, I can not be there.
What this saga has taught me is that there is no decency left in our nation. Oh sure, the veterans make the headlines every once in a while at times like the scandal at Walter Reed. But now that the defense contractor owned media has declared the corporate line of mission accomplished part two, you know, the surge worked after all, the plight of our men and women in harms way has dropped off of the radar like yesterdays old news. The talking heads who think to analyze for us the goings on of the world, but who are little more than paid shills that wouldn't know a wounded vet of this President's criminal war if they passed them on the street while they wore a sign saying "Homeless Iraq Vet, Please Help", should shut their mouths about what the people of our country are concerned about in the upcoming election.
Here's something they don't want you to know. Such as the fact that at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a full 25 per cent of those returning from this horror show exhibit signs of mental illness. And less than one quarter of them are receiving any treatment due to long waiting lists.
Our veterans have become little more than propaganda pieces for our politicians, who trot them out for photo ops when ever a rally round the flag moment is deemed appropriate, but forgotten by them the minute the television cameras are off. The politicos and the news people go off to a hot cup of coffee and congratulate each other on a job well done, while the vets, many of them homeless, go back into the cold of the day, in a never ending search for their lost sanity.
It's time for everyone to keep these men and women in the spotlight during this election, and not allow talking heads to assure us that everything is all better now. If we allow the death of decency, the pushing aside of these people, then we are as lost as the pundits who don't have any clue of the reality of life on the streets.
Now is not the time to take the pressure off as a favor to this administration. It's time for the media to grow some you know what, and take this administration to task every day if need be, until they stop speaking platitudes about helping our injured vets, and do something to provide them with the care they so desperately need. The public can do this also by putting on the pressure with emails and phone calls to both the media and their politicians demanding action.
To the mother of my friend, forgive us all for not being there when your son, my friend, needed us the most.