Monday, March 12, 2012

The Silent Epidemic 8,000 Afghan and Iraq veterans commit suicide each year

The Silent Epidemic

It´s not actually silent; it´s usually violent. A hanging here, a shotgun blast to the head there, or cut arteries, overdoses and more. But, in almost all cases alcohol is involved.

War veterans take their own lives because the emotional pain of living
with what they did, saw and experienced in war is so great that they cannot
see or bear to live with it. Or, feel that they cannot, and all are alone in their pain. And, so they take an act to end their inner torment forever.

I am talking about the epidemic (what else can you call it?) of suicides among American veterans who have returned home from Afghanistan and Iraq. It´s received scant attention in the nations media. Not anywhere near that received by the fake dangers to America that our leaders use to scare people.

8,000. That´s roughly how many veterans of these wars commit suicide each year.Eight thousand! 8,000!! A year. That´s 21 a day, or one veteran suicide every 68 minutes or so.

Do you remember how for years at the beginning of these wars media
coverage of body bags and caskets being unloaded on US soil was strictly forbidden?

Give us your child for our wars, but PSST we don´t want to broadcast photos of them coming back in caskets being off loaded from airplanes.

Nor, do we want funeral coverage (yes, this was barred too.) to be on TV. Our leaders learned from Vietnam that allowing coverage tends to be accumulative emotionally in the nation´s psyche. And well that´s ´a bummer´ for our leaders.

No suicide is silent. There are screams and wails expressed by the loved ones who meet one of the worst tragedies; the death of a son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father, brother or sister, nephew or niece, or uncle or aunt, or friends.

That pain will be with them forever, and while I can imagine if from personal experience each situation is different. The joy, happiness, humour, love and the special things the deceased veteran meant to someone…family and friends will be no more. Just memories. And, to any family members or friends who come by this I say hold onto those good memories dearly.

I said that veterans take their lives to end the emotional pain that they live with. I know that, and even for myself that pain is greater at the very end of each November and worsens as Christmas approaches…each day before Christmas…because Christmas
Day 1968 was my first day in the Vietnam War. I wrote about that in this article, ´The Girl I Met On Christmas Day 1968- DaNang´

There have been Christmases where I didn´t know how or if I would make it through till Christmas (1970 when I got out of the Marines to 1972), and also the Christmases after my marital separation 2002, 2003, and 2008, 2009 and 2010.

For me, it revolves around certain incidents. The worst was a night on a jungle ridge (Fire Support Base FSB Cunningham). My fire team leader, Chief and I had the bunker on the extreme flank of the ridge. One night the darkness was pierced by the screams of the two men from the next bunker. They came running towards us screaming hysterically ‘The gooks are all around us ...we’re gonna get killed.’

Chief ran out of the bunker with me behind him. We each grabbed one, and covered their mouths. I put the flat handle of my K-Bar against the back of the neck of my man so he couldn't move. Then I put my K-Bar to his throat. In his eyes I saw sheer terror that I remember to this day. I kept looking over my man's shoulder, and all around me…360 degrees while Chief whispered 'Shut the fuck up. Get back into your hole. Keep your head down, and your eyes and ears open.' And, for good measure, Chief added 'and don't bring them over here.'

When I had my knife against my man's throat I gave him a look that was meant to scare the shit out of him as much as what had just terrorized him. It wasn´t that I had no fear, but that panic is deadly. I learned to control my fear on that hill.

They ran back to their bunkers. We evacuated our bunker; everyone knew it by then, and Chief said our rifles were useless because the flash of a rifle would give our position away. We survived that night with knives and hand grenades. We went up a hill behind our bunker and I hid behind a massive tree and we had bush protection.

After a few minutes a sapper made it into their bunker and began knifing them to keep them there until his satchel detonated. We listened to them scream and scream in terror and agony of their last seconds (6-7) of their lives…They were fifty feet away…begging. One cried aloud ‘Oh God’ just before the explosion. I could say it was awful, but somehow it doesn´t even touch how bad it was the searing emotional pain I was in. And, also worried that a sapper maybe nearby.

A single teardrop ran down from my left eye, and I shut down inside. I got over their deaths in a snap of my fingers. I was worried that the sounds might mask someone approaching us. I was 110% adrenalin. All they had to do was get within hand grenade range.

Later that morning my platoon Sgt. brought me to the bunker and said ‘we got two new men coming in on the copter, and we don’t want them seeing it (the bunker) like that. I nodded and took the rags, and went in to clean it up. My training hadn't taught me how to clean up the exploded remains of marines (and the brave sapper a North Vietnamese regular) was all blood, bits of flesh, bone and whatever. I almost cracked. It was horrible.

Most of all, God, I didn’t want another Marine to see me crying…so I stuffed it. At one point I said to myself 'You can't do this. You can't do this´(cry). So, I stuffed it way down, and came back home that way, but have cried many times since leaving that hill.

I have since felt that on the Judgement Day even if Allah-God himself, and those two men come over to me and smile and say it's okay now...I will always feel like shit for eternity for what happened that night. And I know that we had no other choice.

The medivac copter that took me out set down at another firebase for 10 minutes...and in an 'Irish mist' I sat there counting body bags stacked like cordwood on the tarmac. I stopped at 240.

The screams of those two men, friends, the dead, wounded, maimed and the terror and pain are with me every day. So, I understand about those veterans who take their own lives. But, I have made it to 61. These young men won´t be with their families for Thanksgiving, or Christmas or Birthdays…

Before I finish this I must say that in each and ever suicide the veteran had a silent partner. His killer. I speak of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President, Goldman Sachs and a cast of thousands who wish not to be named

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