If I Don’t Say It, Maybe My Friend Won’t Be Dead

CW: Death, war, suicide

More people with whom I went to war have died by suicide than from combat. Another may have been added to that list. No cause of death has been mentioned yet, but it was probably suicide or somehow related to one of the physical ailments the VA failed to treat properly.

He was more than a war buddy. He was a good friend, one of the few people I’ve kept up with post-military. It probably had a lot to do with all we had in common outside of the Army life. We grew up not many miles apart in rival college towns. We were both grumpy old farts who had enlisted late in life. We were of the same generation, often out of touch with the culture of our younger comrades.

Just after getting home from Afghanistan and just before we got good and drunk
Just after getting home from Afghanistan and just before we got good and drunk

Six years ago this month, my friend and I accompanied our XO to clean out the barracks room of a deceased comrade. We were preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan, and this was a painfully ironic loss. A motorcycle safety instructor dies in an accident despite following all the rules. He just couldn’t teach other drivers to pay attention. He seemed fine after the accident but died of massive internal bleeding soon after.

Our XO would die six months later in Afghanistan. Days away from transferring to another unit, he was walking back to his nice safe office when a rocket dropped in behind him. The woman walking beside him would survive, but he would die of massive internal bleeding soon after.

My friend was not around for that incident. The Army promised to fly us anywhere in the world for our mid-tour leave. Most people chose to go home, but my friend had to he difficult. He created a bunch of extra work with his wish to go to Thailand, but our XO made it happen.

My friend heard the news while he was on his way back to Afghanistan. We would run into each other in Bagram a little over a week later. I was on my way home to bury my mother.

My friend and I kept in touch over the years as he left for a new duty station and we both eventually left the military. We’d typically talk at least once a month. We even had the good fortune of spending some time together earlier this year.

Life has been a struggle for my friend for quite some time. He battled endlessly with the VA to get quality care for his many physical and emotional injuries. That was the topic of many of our phone calls. During one of those, he broke down in tears over being unable to recall our fallen XO’s name. I reminded him and reassured him that memory problems were part of PTSD. I never had the heart to tell him I broke down after our call because I couldn’t remember the name of the woman who had survived that attack.

I have not spoken my friend’s name since I heard the news. Part of it is out of respect for his family’s privacy. Part of it is my denial. If I don’t say it, maybe it’ll turn out not to be true.

Every loss of a comrade has hit me hard. It’s a hurt I can’t really explain to anyone who’s never been to war. This one is different, though. This is the first time I lost a friend. I don’t know if I can handle this pain.

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9 thoughts on “If I Don’t Say It, Maybe My Friend Won’t Be Dead

  1. Oh, Drew, I’m so sorry for your loss. My husband’s best Army buddy is more like a brother and he’d be devastated, too. The VA is slapping pills like bandaids with no thought to side effects, education or alternatives. They just want to demonstrate that they are efficiently handling the “problems” in a timely matter. I fight the VA every step on every pill they want to give my husband — what is it; why do you want him to take it; what are the side effects; what other choices do we have. It’s so hard when we know memory loss is a part of PTSD, and I hope you show yourself the same compassion you expressed to your friend. Big hugs to you and your cats!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This saddens me to hear. It was absolutely devastating to lose Rob the way we did, but it is understandable in war. These are the hardest losses in my opinion, because they are ones that could have been stopped if only they had received the proper attention and care. Society needs to gain more awareness of the silent killer that may not leave physical scars but emotional ones. Our soldiers need our support. I love all of you in our military family. My deepest condolences for the passing of this brave hero ♡

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never got to meet Rob but heard so many good things about him, he was my daughters friend, comrade and a military brother…..That is my daughter that was with Rob that day, yes she survived but she is not the same person anymore. I love all military men and women who are serving our country or did in the past. I so wish i could help anyone in need. Thank you for posting this letter, reading it and having tears in my eyes. God Bless you all!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i’ve read, and re-read this post over the past few days.

    thank you for sharing. i knew him as well, though years ago and in a much different context. my work nowadays brings me into frequent contact with homeless veterans (psych-crisis program in a 200+ bed shelter). their frustrations with the va system are myriad.

    be well, drew, and know that you are heard.

    -b

    Liked by 1 person

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