'He died in Iraq, he just didn't know it'

Dateline: Tue 01 Sep 2009

Konrad Marshall's series on the state-side suicide of Sgt. Jacob Blaylock after a tour of duty in Iraq with the National Guard is simply some of the best reporting and reading n the Star in ages.

Besides being a poignant personal saga of the lives of several soldiers, all friends and members of the same unit, the series produces a lingering and heart-wrenching backlash: one is left struggling with the treatment combat veterans receive as they re-enter American society (or  not) as well as questioning the justification of war and who goes and why -- "not some senator's son" etc.

Blaylock joined for seemingly selfless reasons: his girlfriend was pregnant and he wanted to support her and their baby. Dead-end jobs, which seem to proliferate across the landscape now -- Olan Mills guy, restaurant worker, etc. -- don't really go far for keeping a family afloat.

So he made the deal, but the cost turned out to be way too high. After witnessing two fellow soldiers and close buddies die in a bomb inferno, survivor's guilt put an already fragile young man on the ropes: drinking, depression, fights with his fiancee, a too-little, too-late effort to get help from the Veterans Administration. The all-too-familiar story had only one ending. He took his life, and two days later, his anti-depression meds arrived in the mail.

As the series unfolds, we see other veterans from the same unit choosing the same course.

There's a saying left over from Vietnam: "He died in Vietnam. He just didn't know it."

I heard that for the first time from the Marine combat veteran of Vietnam to whom I am married, who has had his own raging demons and memories to struggle with for years -- the fallout on wives and children creates another set of stories, to that I can testify.

I had told Guy about a friend's younger brother, who joined the miltary to get his s--- together and ended up in Vietnam, too. His loving mother tracked his every move with flags on a map pinned to a wall in the family room. When he finally returned home, the parents -- fairly affluent -- gifted him with a brand-new Volkswagen. They called him down from his bedroom to see it. "He looked at it, shrugged and went back upstairs," my friend said.

The rest of his short life was spent in isolation and self-medication, with drugs and booze, before he put a bullet in his head.

"He died in Iraq, he just didn't know it." When you hear a man say that, with the 1,000-yard stare, it creeps you out.

Suicides among Army veterans are up; if you Google the subject, you'll learn that they've reached all-time highs and the Army and other military branches are very concerned.

I think stories like Konrad Marshall's should be must reading for every high school student, military recruiter and officers in charge of making the big decisions. I think the president should read it to his daughters.

Years ago, soldiers buried their feelings, and, if they took their own lives, it was usually done quietly, without community chat. Today is different, culturally, psychologically. We have an opportunity to confront the hidden cost of war, and we should all be talking about it -- to our husbands, our sons, our daughters, our friends, our families.

Something is seriously wrong when brave young men -- and they are brave, as well as scared s----less -- see the military as a way to grow up and pay their bills and get responsible -- all important historic avenues. But then they end up being cannon fodder and killed and killed again, and we are all left poorer for it.

Konrad Marshall has left the Star, but he has created an indelible stain in ink and blood. For this, we owe him and the paper gratitude, as well as condolences for lives lost and families and friends left behind.

 

 

Comments

hendy [unverified] said:

The story is sad.

How are you supposed to feel after being thrown into a life and death situation, watch people die beside and in front of you, then return to find that there's fierce rejection to the very actions you undertook?

The toll it takes on people, families, the economy, is endless. Journaling the tragedy reminds us all of the price paid. When will the Department of Defense become the Department of Peace? When will we stop funding regimes solely to protect American business, then watch as they collapse, and start messes that we inevitably have to clean up with the blood of soldiers, and the tears of their families?

Damn the flag wavers, the jingoistic idiots, and those fooled by the ruse of sword-waving strawmen. It isn't Rome that's burning, it's the world.

2009-09-02 02:02:56

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

DOD used to be the War Department, Hendy. They renamed it because the name creeped out too many folks after the big one--WW 2, was fought and "won."

Konrad's story of this tormented young man is superb. Prize-winning, if there's a God in the prize-judging world (I'm pretty sure there isn't).
Of course all prayers and karma go out to his family and buddies. Tragic.

But this is what happens when a C-student (at best) has his hand on the nuclear button, and decides to boost his testosterone by starting a war with a ficticious enemy. Using faulty intellegence, ginned up by a vice president who, I swear to God, belongs in stripes behind bars.

How either one of them can show their faces in public is a mystery to me. They play war games, and thousands of young soldiers die, and hundreds of billions get spent.

And hundreds of billions more had BETTER be spent on the mental and physical health of the wounded. Not all wounds are visible.

The same president who declared this war, and prematurely flew onto a carrier to proclaim victory, fought mercilessly with the VA to streamline and cheapen their benefits. Hypocritical, at the very least.

Mission Accomplished, indeed.

2009-09-02 06:47:42

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Something is seriously wrong when brave young men -- and they are brave, as well as scared s----less -- see the military as a way to grow up and pay their bills and get responsible -- all important historic avenues."

Why, Ruth?
Are those not perfectly valid reasons for serving?

Military service is voluntary. And it is a far better choice than the draft.

Failure by the VA and the service branches to do an adequate job of serving veterans is another story.

In the interest of full disclosure, my son is a career Marine officer. He was separated from the Corps for a year, but returned because the challenge, discipline, and responsibility of being a member of the "world's most respected force," suits him. When he graduated from Purdue, he had a good job waiting. His choice of military service was a complete surprise. I honor him for it. And pray that his next deployment will leave him whole in mind and body.

2009-09-02 07:38:05

Seneca [unverified] said:

'who goes and why -- "not some senator's son" etc.'

John McCain's son Jimmy served in Iraq. His son Jack graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May of this year.

2009-09-02 09:38:40

hendy [unverified] said:

With McCain's military record and family history, it's not surprising that McCain's son served. Many other politician's sons (and even daughters) served as well.

And some of them joined the Air National Guard, which conveniently lost records of what their sons did.

2009-09-02 11:31:34

B2 [unverified] said:

And some of them chose to be community organizers who couldn't tell an M16 from a Browning Automatic. And conveniently lost their birth records.

2009-09-02 11:38:16

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Bravo, Hendy! Mission Accomplished! (Although I'm sure you meant to make politicians plural, which would've been "politicians' sons")

Buzz off B2--wrong reference, wrong person, wrong cause, and frankly, idiotic. My California BC is exactly the same as the president's. I've held elective office. Wanna come after me? Find a cause that doesn't make you look like a lunatic.

Tom, your son's story is admirable. Clearly he was raised correctly. He now has two accomplishments of which to be proud--a college degree and military service.

Ruth's point was, that "reasons for serving" in the current volunteer Army, too often go to poverty and "a place to park" for a few years. We need a strong military--and more of them. Ask your son how many of his comrades in the Armed Forces, are sub-par mentally. Those numbers have exploded. I am pretty sure the Marines' standards are still pretty high. Not true across-the-board.

There's a place for the less-stellar scholar in our nation. I'm just not sure the best place is toting an M-16 or fixing a Humvee. We've got to come to grips with the military's true human talent needs, and stop filing their ranks with too many recruiters' quota-kids. It's expensive to "house" some of these kids in a military sense, and I know there are nervous commanders in most service branches, who are hoping to God some of their warriors' tours end soon, without re-enlistment. It's damnmed expensive, and in some cases dangerous, for some of these kids to be in the military. If we had a decent vocational ed system in this nation, we'd route them into productive careers that don't involve expensive and deadly technology and weaponry. They've gotta earn money, and you have to admire their pluck and work ethic. But the toll is large, in productivity and overall unit safety.



2009-09-02 14:38:48

boomer [unverified] said:

For every tragic, heartwrenching story, there's one that will inspire. War is hell. And it changes lives forever. But, in this world, we must defend what is good. We must be willing to sacrifice the young men and women who voluntarily choose to serve this country for a higher good. The military has many success stories - men and women who go on to do great things. But serving on the front lines is a bitter reality. We care for our young folks - and these stories are real. Disheartening. But no reason to pack up the military and let the world run amok. It's the price we paid for freedom and our standing in this world. We live in the greatest country in the world because men and women have fought and died. We still have the greatest military in the world, too. As we grieve the loss of the soldiers, we must honor them for their service as well.

2009-09-02 14:54:34

B2 [unverified] said:

Here are the quotes from T3 -- a/k/a The Thought Cop:

"Ask your son how many of his comrades in the Armed Forces, are sub-par mentally.
"There's a place for the less-stellar scholar in our nation. I'm just not sure the best place is toting an M-16 or fixing a Humvee. We've got to come to grips with the military's true human talent needs, and stop filing their ranks with too many recruiters' quota-kids. It's expensive to "house" some of these kids in a military sense, and I know there are nervous commanders in most service branches, who are hoping to God some of their warriors' tours end soon, without re-enlistment. It's damnmed expensive, and in some cases dangerous, for some of these kids to be in the military. If we had a decent vocational ed system in this nation, we'd route them into productive careers that don't involve expensive and deadly technology and weaponry."

What a sad, insulting, degrading swipe at the brave young men and women who voluntarily choose to serve this country.

2009-09-02 15:41:47

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"We've got to come to grips with the military's true human talent needs, and stop filing their ranks with too many recruiters' quota-kids...I know there are nervous commanders in most service branches, who are hoping to God some of their warriors' tours end soon, without re-enlistment."

Well sure, T3. There are some in service that simply don't belong there. They aren't mentally or physically equipped for it. It can be a shock for young men and women to suddenly face physical hardship and demanding expectations, when they have been accustomed to social networking all day. These normally don't last. But some make it through, and a very few cause serious problems.

Most Marine recruits have a general idea of what to expect in boot camp. And the Corps is not taking kids with records, or high school dropouts: they are meeting their quotas. Which is not to say they don't get in trouble. The two most dangerous things in the world are a 2nd Lt with a map and a compass; and two young Marines on a street corner with nothing to do.

One of the biggest causes of behaviorial problems in young military is spousal behavior. If Significant Others would promise not to sit under the apple tree with anyone else, while the mate is deployed or on extended training, there'd be fewer behavioral trainwrecks.

2009-09-02 17:13:56

hendy [unverified] said:

The discipline of the military, and its mission when the threats are real-- think WW II and not McNamara's Domino Theory folly-- do the job. Standing armies seem like a good idea, but their roots are tribal and don't suit modern realities. Our armed forces are failures in Iraq and Afghanistan today. They didn't have a plan, a clue, armor, nothing but a lot of chiefs and few indians.

Hiring the forces, the contractors, and the rest, are bankrupting us and other nations. Only the threat of genocide for the Kurds in my mind justifies any of it. Their neighbors, the Armenians, know Urghar cleansing all too well.

If we're to distinguish ourselves from the apes, we have to stop killing each other and stop electing the sociopath leadership that finds propaganda to justify the madness of aggression and pseudo-economic gain from war. We've propped up petty regime after dictatorship rather than actually spreading democracy across this planet. No one even talks about the millions of supposed communists killed in Indonesia by Suharto et al.

How many sons, fathers, uncles, nephews, (sorry about the gender; please add the feminine) must suffer again, and again, until we figure out our leadership?

2009-09-02 18:16:15

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

B2, you really need to re-read and understand: I honor anyone who serves in our military. Almost all Americans do, even those of us with "faulty' birth certs. Don't dare attempt to mis-quote me, in the Reaganesque fahsion you did. It doesn't wash.

The military is a valuable and honored institution. But its ranks have never been so flush with under-qualified personnel. And you can take that term "unqualified" any way you want. I have recruiter relatives in two branches, and their stories are frightening. The bar has been drastically lowered.

Tom, your Marine suspisions and mine are hopeful, but I know one college chum whose son is a Marine officer, and his stories don't match our hopes. I think the Marines are more removed from the unqualified service personnel as any branch, but they are not immune from it.

The Middle Eastern carnage inflicted on our forces, dead and wounded, demands more human reinforcements monthly. There have been massive recruiting scandals as close as Stout Field, and they're not isolated incidents. Bright young recruiters have lost careers over the pressure to get live bodies signed on the dotted line.

The sad result is, when a recruit who should never be in the military, is pushed forward, (s)he suffers, as do their comrades and commanders. Add to that equation, a senseless war in the first place, and it's a true horror cocktail.

But don't ever think, B2, that you can rewrite or rephrase my comments into an assault on the military. In your dreams.

2009-09-02 18:28:05

Seneca [unverified] said:

". . . sacrifice the young men and women . . ."

Perhaps the old men (and the occasional old woman) who wage wars should be sacrificed, rather than the young who are forced to fight (and die).

2009-09-03 08:00:49

B2 [unverified] said:

T3, all I did was pull your quotes directly from your post.

Love the way you toss around the phrases, "wanna come after me" and "don't dare."

Obviously some pent-up aggression at play.

Peace, bro.

2009-09-03 08:01:11

hendy [Member] said:

Passive-aggressive is at play here.

'Wanna come after me' doesn't involve aggression, and 'don't dare' doesn't either. Instead, it speaks to self-respect and dignity, and a mutual sense between TTT (I've never met him) and I that you're willing to twist words into improving your point. This fails. The purposeful contextual also speaks to insecurities.

If you poke a stick at someone, it's unrealistic not to expect a negative reaction.

2009-09-03 11:36:42

ruthholl [Member] said:

To Tom Greenacres: thank you for explaining your position and your disclosure about your son being a career Marine officer.
Having attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Indy for some years now, I've no doubt seen him, (if he was there) and I have the greatest respect for his service, as does my husband. It's always "Semper Fi" and "welcome home" around here.
That does not minimize the problems my husband has had as a vet -- problems he took into the corps with him, frankly, and are as much about what Kurt Vonnegut called "bad chemicals" as a painful family history. I was speaking simply as a spouse who has had to put all this together and in perspective over a period of many years. In that sense, the series really rang central.
As for busting the stigma, ("Marine combat vet kills fill-in-the-blank") former Star reporter Abe Aamidor once did a features story on all the SUCCESSFUL combat veterans of Vietnam. The point was to tell readers that many men came home, went to work or college, married, had families and succeeded -- some quite impressive success storie with very stable, non-drug-addicted lives.
The Vietnam vets, in my opinion, got the same treatment that papers used to give to the "blonde divorcee."
We did our best to put that baby to bed with Abe's thought-provoking piece.

2009-09-03 12:24:49

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I remember some of Abe's strong work on this and other subjects. A terrific writer.

And thanks for your pitch-in, Hendy. It probably fell on deaf ears, but it was spot-on.

I've noticed that somewhere around 1980, it became acceptable for some folks to adjust your words, and repackage them/throw them back at you in a one-trick pony: "If you're not with me you're unpatriotic," or variations thereof.

It began in politics, but has shifted to the bizworld, and everywhere. Sadly. I chose my words relatively carefully, and don't need them repackaged, especially with a different intent.

But then, that WAS the intent, huh? Hendy caught it, too. B2, you're busted.

2009-09-03 14:08:14

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Having attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Indy for some years now, I've no doubt seen him, (if he was there) and I have the greatest respect for his service, as does my husband. It's always "Semper Fi" and "welcome home" around here."

Ruthie,
Thanks for that. You haven't likely seen my son at a MCB in Indy: he went civilian for a year in 2007, worked in Indy, got himself reinstated without loss of rank (he's a Captain on the select list for Major, a bit ahead of schedule) as ADC to a two star. Next spring he will be in Afghanistan (did 2 in Iraq, but quiet ones).

But even with Guy's lingering problems, I suspect he feels-- and you know, as do I-- that Marines are something special. They are part of something unique, big, lasting. Pinning on the Eagle, Globe and Anchor isn't something that anyone can do.

When I stood on the hallowed parade grounds at Quantico for son's OCS graduation, I bore wittness to all the young men, and women, that marched across that field before going to Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

2009-09-03 16:22:59

ruthholl [Member] said:

That is exactly how we feel, too. This sounds so corny, but as an only child and daughter of a widow, things that were masculine were always fascinating to me. I read a Classics Illustrated comic many years about the Marines (history of the Corps, leather neck origin, place in culture). When the Marine Corps Band came to Fort Wayne, my mother and I went. (I was probably 12). The fact that Guy was a Marine (when I met him at IU) meant he was someone very special, as he has proven over and over during the course of time.
No bs, it is indeed a proud and singular family, as you suggest.
If you have not read Francis Schaeffer's book about his son's Marine Corps service, I recommend it. I'll get the exact title to you, although you may well be ahead of me.
Take care, thank you.

2009-09-03 23:39:44

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