The Untold Casualties of War
By Jack Random
“What responsibility do we have as citizens who send people to go fight in our wars? Do we do everything within our power, moving mountains if that’s what it takes, to provide for [them] when they come home?”
Steve Robinson, Executive Director, Gulf War Resources Center.
Why does a 35-year-old man go to war as a private in a volunteer army? Why does he come home on leave to shoot his wife and himself? Why does a 36-year-old man leave an infant child orphaned, motherless and fatherless?
Stephen Sherwood was a musician who played in a heavy metal band. He had long hair, tattoos, and was active in the local music scene. He was twice married and held down a job as a paramedic for ten years.
When his wife became pregnant, Stephen Sherwood joined the army because it was the only way he could find to provide health insurance for his family.
Sent to Iraq, he was assigned to the cannon crew of the Second Brigade Combat Team, serving a year in Baghdad and Ramadi. It was hard duty. The Second Brigade lost sixty-eight soldiers in Ramadi alone, taking some of the heaviest casualties in the war. It also took the lives of a great many Iraqis, undoubtedly including women and children, wives and infant daughters.
When Stephen Sherwood came home on leave to Fort Collins, Colorado, there was no apparent reason to worry. He was just another soldier on his way back to Iraq. Nine days later, he and his wife were dead.
Did the war change Stephen Sherwood?
How could it not?
Stephen, Sara and Ripley Mae Sherwood were not only casualties of an unjust war; they were casualties of an economic system that does not provide health care to the family of a man who held a good job for a decade.
He answered the call of fellow citizens in distress but when it came to filling his most fundamental needs, the privatized medical industry turned its back.
Stephen Sherwood did not want to become a soldier. He did not want to go to war. Like every man, he only wanted to provide for his family. Ten or twenty years from now, Ripley Mae will want to know what happened to her biological parents. A foster parent (or if she’s lucky, an aunt or uncle) may tell her that her daddy went to war and came back a different man. She will want to know why and whether it was worth it.
What will we tell her? What will we tell our own children? That we went to war for a lie and continued to fight for another? Will we say it was to spread the blessings of democracy (without it choking in our throats) or will we finally admit it was all about oil?
Not long ago, America cried a river of tears for Terri Schiavo. Who will cry for Ripley Mae Sherwood? It is safe to say that all America will not cry the tears that this one little girl will cry when she learns the truth.
Forty-five soldiers have gone to war and committed suicide over there. Thirty-five more waited until they came home. Some of them took others with them. They will not be serenaded by honor guards. Parades and memorials will not remember them but they are casualties of the war as much as any other and their numbers are growing.
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Johnson of Fort Carson called Stephen Sherwood “a hero” and maybe, in some strange and twisted way he is, but that is a bitter pill for the surviving family members.
Heather West, his former wife, recalled Stephen as a “creative, thoughtful, very sensitive person.” She added: “This not the person that I knew.”
It is a familiar refrain.
It is what friends and family said when Andres Raya (condemned by the authorities as a gangster) returned home to cut down a local police officer in a probable suicide by cop.
It is what friends and family said when Sergeants Matthew Denni and James Pitts came home to kill their wives. It was what friends and family said when Sergeant Curtis Greene hanged himself in his barracks.
Maybe it is what friends and family are supposed to say or maybe it is simple truth.
War is hell. It is one of the most horrific of human experiences – not only for the fallen but also for the survivors. It cannot help but change a man, a woman, husband, wife, mother or father.
The government that goes to war for less than a compelling reason owes a great deal more to the survivors of war than it can ever begin to repay.
What will our government say to Ripley Mae Sherwood? It will not even send condolences. Unless a sea change happens in this country, it will not even apologize. It will not admit wrong.
Perhaps the government will ask Ripley to go to war so that she can afford a decent education or basic health care.
Do not be fooled, Ripley. A government that will never admit wrong – even in the most egregious cases – cannot be trusted. Tell them to find someone else. Tell them you have already paid enough. There is always another way.
I wish I knew your birthday. I’d like to send you a card in eighteen or twenty years. It would be signed: From someone who remembers. I’m sorry.
“Ft. Carson GI, wife shot dead,” By Monte Whaley and Erin Emery, Denver Post 8/5/05.
“2nd BCT Soldier kills wife, self,” The Colorado Springs Gazette, 8/5/05.
“Soldier Just Back From Iraq Kills Wife, Self,” WRAL.com, 8/5/05.