Photo by Edward F. Palm)

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Veteran in the News

(Monument to Non-Violence, Malmo, Sweden, July, 2004)
I’ve been busy, busy, keeping up with my online teaching, but I have to take time out to comment on a story that caught my eye in yesterday’s Seattle Times.
     On, Tuesday, November 3, Lake Stevens, WA, police shot and killed an armed Iraq war veteran who allegedly “forced his way into a home where his wife and three children were staying with friends.”
     The article identified the veteran as John LaBossiere, a former Marine who had joined the National Guard upon his discharge from the Corps. The Marine Corps had sent him to Iraq twice. The National Guard sent him over for a third tour. He had just returned to the States in August, and according to his father, he returned an “angry man” who felt he had to be armed at all times. According to the article, one handgun was found near his body and "another on his body.” 
     The circumstances surrounding the actual shooting were not reported. As always happens in such cases, the officers involved are on paid leave pending an investigation. I have no idea what LaBossiere intended or whether police could have resolved the situation without killing him. But what I do know concerns me on two levels. 
     First, I could join Shakespeare’s Hamlet in proclaiming “O my prophetic soul!” For some time now, I’ve been worrying out loud and in print about the toll the operational tempo is taking on our small volunteer force. But some Horatio would be justified in reminding my naïve self that “there needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us” that we can expect more tragic scenes involving Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to play themselves out in the years to come. Would that it were not so—and the overwhelming majority of today’s veterans will never be a danger to themselves or others. But it’s difficult for all combat veterans to snap back to normalcy. 
     Second, I am concerned about the effect stories about troubled veterans have on the popular mind. I remember how Vietnam veterans were stereotyped as hair-trigger, dangerously deranged losers liable to erupt into violence at any moment. That was the myth out of which Rambo was made. And let’s be honest here: most of us who went to Vietnam hadn’t been through anything compared to the veterans of our current wars , many of whom have been sent into harm’s way three or more times.
     So take one of these young soldiers or Marines who has already witnessed too much to make a smooth transition back to the land of shopping-mall warriors, and then let him know that you’re wary of him, and what is the likely result? It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your suspicion might just push him over the edge, turning him into the sort of veteran you fear.
     A bit of bad Roosevelt comes to mind: One of the things our returning veterans have to fear, ironically, is fear itself. --EFP


Larry Scroggs said...

Ed your blog touched on something that has been a sore point with me since the early Seventies. Back then it seemed every time the media presented a story about a crime that had been committed, they made sure to mention the perpetrator’s service in Viet Nam. They implied that, but for his Viet Nam exposure, the criminal would never have gone wrong. This seemed to occur with every crime from jaywalking to murder. Of course, the more heinous the crime, the more prominently the Viet Nam service was featured in the story. Of course we can’t forget the endless stories of the Viet Nam vets involved in drug addiction, alcoholism, and vagrancy. Now, I certainly agree that some veterans have undergone tremendous mental and physical suffering brought on and exacerbated by their service in Viet Nam. However, I contend that those veterans are a small minority of the veterans of Viet Nam. The vast majority of Viet Nam veterans returned home and, like you and I did, they got on with their lives. They continued their education, got a job, married, and raised families. They became successful, law abiding members of their communities. As you state in your blog, we were all tarred with the same brush by the media and the “common knowledge” was that if you were a Viet Nam vet you must be a ticking time bomb.
As to the current situation of our military personnel, you know that I share your concerns about the repeated tours that some of our combat arms service members are being exposed to. We have known since World War II that placing people in a combat environment for more than 200 days causes large numbers of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) casualties. This is not speculation. This fact has been proven time and again. As a twenty year veteran of the military, I know the propensity of military personnel to take on any mission and to push themselves to the point of physical and/or mental collapse in order to accomplish the mission. My question, and it’s unanswerable now, is what are the long term effects going to be on the brave young men and women we are sending into combat over and over again? In my twenties I was invincible and didn’t worry about abusing my body and mind to accomplish the mission because I believed it was necessary. I’m now in my sixties and wiser. If we as a country are going to ask these young people to risk their future physical and mental health, let’s make damn sure the sacrifices we are asking of them are really necessary and are being asked of them for the right reasons.
(To be continued)

Larry Scroggs said...

Ed my final point about your blog is that we really don’t have enough information about the Iraq veteran who was shot to decide if his overseas tours contributed to his actions in this incident. You well know that the experiences a person undergoes during a tour in a combat zone can be radically different. My brother served in Viet Nam a year after I did. He was in communications in the Air Force at a large air base near Saigon. He said it was the best assignment he had in the service: air conditioned dormitories and dining facilities; a house boy to shine his boots, clean his room and wash and iron his uniforms; movies and television; a swimming pool. Of course he drew the same combat pay you and I got paid. We called them REMFs. In Iraq and Afghanistan the personnel who never go outside the compound are called fobbits. They work inside the Forward Operating Bases (FOB) and have most of the same amenities available that they have in the States. Now there is some risk that a mortar or rocket round may be lobbed into the FOB but their actual risk of injury or death is probably no higher than their risk during their daily commute to work in the States. There is an immense difference between the stresses a fobbit experiences during a combat tour and the stresses experienced by a person who regularly works and lives outside the FOB. This is not to minimize the hardships every service member experiences by being separated from his friends and family. Before we start attributing the actions of John LaBossiere to his tours in Iraq, let’s find out all the facts about his service.

Anonymous said...

Ed, I agree with the tours, but I have checked the deaths and they are no were near Vietnam for all the years we have been in Iraq and Afganistan. So I figure this is the war I would rather be in than Vietnam as the death toll for time is very low which means the odds for getting killed is lower. The equipment is also much better. I spent close to 30-31 months in Vietnam about 2.7 years and was in the infantry / bush, no rear area for me. S/f Sarge

Amy said...

As the sister-in-law of John I can say that I believe that his tours in Iraq changed him and that it most certianly did play a part in that horrible night!

The man that I know, the father and husband that I know John to be would NEVER have done what he did that night to his wife and children, nor would he have exposed his children, especially his 5-year-old daughter to what he did!

John was not some crazy maniac. He was a good man, husband, father and soldier!!!