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.
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.