I am going to be writing about very real experiences that ended tragically in suicide in many, not all, but many cases. Don’t read this if that is going to trigger the darkness to rise within you. We don’t need to lose anyone else.
I listen to Iron Maiden A LOT. Almost obsessively, some would argue. And much of that has to do with a quote I heard a long time ago about how music has the ability to take simple words to places that mere words cant go. When you record a song, it’s chordal movement, melody, inflection, tonality, and most importantly the emotion evoked by going from E minor to C to A minor to D minor. God’s saddest chord progression, I always call it. Obviously I learned it from an Iron Maiden song. And so many of their songs, somehow, capture the aesthetic, the horror and the harsh realities of the things we’re asked to do. Take this verse from “Afraid to Shoot Strangers:”
Trying to justify to ourselves the reasons to go
should we live and let live
forget or forgive
But how can we let them go on this way?
A reign of terror, corruption must end
And we know deep down there’s no other way
No trust, no reasoning no more to say.”
It’s a total “what the fuck are we even doing here anyway?”
From “These Colours Don’t Run:”
Far away from the land of our birth
we fly our flag in some foreign earth
we sailed away like our fathers before
These colours don’t run from cold bloody war.”
“I guess we’re doing it for ‘Murka but I don’t know why I’m mad at these people.”
The one that hits me the hardest goes as follows, it’s called “The Longest Day.”
In the gloom, the gathering storm abates
In the ships, gimlet eyes await
The call to arms to hammer at the gates
To blow them wide, throw evil to its fate
All summers long, the drills to build the machine
To turn men from flesh and blood to steel
From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach
From summer sands to Armageddon´s reach
Overlord, your master, not your God
The enemy coast dawning grey with scud
These wretched souls, puking, shaking fear
To take a bullet for those who sent them here
The world’s alight
The cliffs erupt in flame
No escape, remorseless shrapnel rains
Drowning men, no chance for a warrior’s fate
A choking death, enter Hell’s gates
Sliding we go
Only fear on our side
To the edge of the wire
And we rush with the tide
Oh, the water is red
With the blood of the dead
But I’m still alive
Pray to God I survive
How long, on this longest day
‘Til we finally make it through?
Steve Harris, who is a trusted student of the history of war and observer of the human condition couldn’t have written it better if I was sitting there dictating to him.
The anxiety of the training “all summers long.” I can still see my dumbass Marines fucking with a western diamond back rattlesnake and letting them get bitten because I knew it would be a dry bite and I hoped they would learn to be 5% less stupid.
“From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach…” We’re a volunteer military now. The “paper soldiers” Steve is referring to is those poor sods that were drafted into the War. Our paper soldiers now are a reclamation of the phrase to mean those of us to have the guts to sign the line when we weren’t forced. All our choice. And then “Armageddon’s reach” whatever middle eastern hell fate directed us. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. Somalia. Yemen.
I don’t have the space to do a full analysis of these lyrics and the experiences they capture here, but trust me when I say that Steve captured the raw feelings and fears and resolve that you feel.
And perhaps most poignantly, from Paschendale:
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still
I stand my ground for the very last time
Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow
Rush of blood and over we go
You can’t understand war unless you’ve lived it. And it isn’t your fault. We are a volunteer force. This isn’t WWII where my grandfather was drafted, and was eventually discharged for telling his higher ups at one of the prisons why he didn’t shoot someone running for freedom by saying “there’s been enough killing.”
And that was during a time when, even if its war, people were playing by the rules.
Now it’s like Fuck Yo Rules. A box of Lindt chocolates could be an IED. In my time on the ground it wasn’t the guys on fireteams that were the most exposed. It was the logistics guys in their vehicles transporting supplies and such from point A to point B. The enemy did everything it could to blow those vehicles and the brothers and sisters in them to oblivion.
We had a POA for every evolution with a dossier of who would be involved from the turret gunner on down the line. And when those guys got to our side of the world it was a party, because we had thwarted the cocksmokers one more time.
Objectively, I had it easy on the ground. I was almost always in the BAS treating nagging things like back strains and hamstring pulls and the sports medicine like injuries that come from carrying almost your own weight hour after hour. And as such, I don’t have many of the “did you see action” stories.
But you know what I did see? The payoff.
I saw what happened when we got back home and knew we were safe and had time to finally process everything that did, didn’t and almost happened.
We went to our post-deployment screenings 3, 6, and 12 months after we got home. Well that is the ones of us that were home that long. Despite rules to the contrary, a lot of guys were sent back with 9 months of coming back home.
And don’t get me wrong, some of these guys didn’t want to be back home. Because the stereotype of the military wife that just waits on her husband to leave so she can cheat—that’s real and fuck those bitches in the very worst way for it. I hope they get a UTI, Herpes and bitten by a copperhead all at the same time.
The names in my phone are funny. If you’re a person I talk to often and are my closest people, the suffix -hausen is added to your name, i.e. Fuckingstirlhausen, Jennyhausen, Mistihausen, mommyhausen. Princesshausen (for my bestie heather). You get the picture. It’s added because my favorite comedy wrestler Donavan Danhausen adds it to the end of almost everything that is deemed to be cool. Also I’m told its an actual German thing.
There’s also a contingency of people in my phone with “Goddammit” in front of their names. They know precisely who they are. Because for a while it was just constant bad news of our guys winning the fight over there only to come back here and lose the war in the most heart breaking way. It got to a point where my lady at the time wanted my buddies to stop calling me because she knew I was going to be crushed to find out that we’d lost someone else. Because she knew I was going to feel like a steaming pile of triceratops shit because I didn’t reach out. I didn’t take that nagging clue to call them to see what was what. I didn’t call when their marriages ultimately failed.
You may say that this is borrowing grief for its own sake. And to that I humbly suggest you do the following in this order:
Leave my yard by taking a right out of the driveway.
Take the curve around to the main street, making sure to stop at said curve and pay the Molly toll by tossing a dog biscuit to an especially, erm, “hefty” Australian Cattle Dog.
When you get to the stop sign, take another right. Go down to hwy 2744 where the turn off is for that cattle sifter.
Go past that pasture about ¾ of a mile until you get to the pasture where the Santa Gertrudis bulls with their horns in tact still are.
Jump the fence.
Smack a bull on its nose.
When the bull goes to toss you, take the horns up the ass and FUCK OFF.
When someone dies in country, or on the ship or even in the hospital, there’s a suddenness that is almost easier to take, because you know their suffering was minimal. When you lose someone to suicide it is the most gut wrenching passing that can befall your brothers and sisters. Because they lost the hardest war of all: the one at home.
And here is something I haven’t told very many people.
Every single time we lose someone to suicide, I start getting the texts and phone calls that “(you’d) better not be next!
And heretofore I have maintained that promise, for here I am, dear reader, laying myself bare for you on this page.
It is no secret I struggle with alcoholism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and probably some mental illnesses that don’t have names yet.
There was a time when I called the veteran’s suicide hotline, because I had tried and failed for over 3 months to find a job and just nothing good was coming of it. Because the harsh reality is that so much of what we do in the military that should 1 to 1 translate just doesn’t. Its like we’re speaking not just a foreign language but a dead language.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced since I came home is the struggle to answer the question “who am I now that I’m not HM2 (FMF) Williams the Grumpy Cat anymore?”
HM2 Grumpy always had or could find an answer. HM2 Grumpy could anticipate his Flight Surgeons concerns before they ever happened. HM2 Grumpy made sure no one fucked with his Jr guys for things they couldn’t help. HM2 Grumpy knew that he couldn’t pay them more, give them more leave, but we he could do is give them time. So I’m not saying I ever told someone “You need to go to your squadron RIGHT (insert bug eyed meaningful look here) “Yeah Grumps, I think I need to go talk to my Sgt Major about whether I should get a boxer or a pit bull.”
“Good fuck off and don’t come back until tomorrow.”
Now I, like a lot of you reading, am just a guy trying to navigate a world that isn’t sure what to do with us. Sure there’s a fuck ton of forward facing “support for our troops,” but yo, my snake needs rats and my guitars need strings, and my car needs an oil change—help brothas and sistas out. Because that’s what ends up getting us. It’s not even the trauma endured over seas—you can anticipate that. It’s coming home to a largely insouciant audience that gives lip service to being “veteran friendly” but that doesn’t end up translating into anything tangible. And that’s when it happens. When that last vestige of hope falls away. When that guy that was a cousin of an uncle was going to be hiring preferably a veteran welder. And it just doesn’t happen for long enough that you cant take one more drink, or take one more Ambien. You take ALL of the fentanyl and dilauded and whatever else so that the embarrassment and feelings of being a burden will go quiet.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Remember my dears, These Colours Don’t Run. If you can do something for just one or two of our siblings, you will earn their love for life and then who knows how far your one act of kindness can go.
Hopefully far enough for the next graduation, prom, drivers license, one act play, football playoff, singing competition—that one more step down the hill that makes life worth living.
Cruelty has a human heart. But kindness does too.
I would love to take a lot more calls lauding the great works of our brothers and sisters than that gut wrenching call to find out we lost someone else.