The Letters

Lance Pilgrim, an Army veteran who was among the first soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2003, died of an overdose Aug. 18, 2007, just six days before his 27th birthday. Lance became addicted to powerful narcotic pain killers — opioids — prescribed to him by his military doctors after treatment for a broken finger. Lance’s story was part Austin American-Statesman’s report on the disproportionately high rate of death by recently discharged veterans in Texas resulting from suicides, toxic drug overdoses and vehicle crashes. (Jay Janner / American Statesman)

The Letters

The Military Suicide Report is calling on families of veterans and service members who have died from suicide to speak out.

Suicide is painful and destructive. For too long suicide has also been shrouded in secrecy, covered up in many instances. The destructive nature and human impact on friends, families and loved ones goes mostly unnoticed by our society.

The Military Suicide Report wants to help inform readers and educate the uninformed and the disinterested just how painful it is for families who lose a son, daughter, brother or sister in such a painful, senseless way.

One way to do that is to share The Letters.

By publishing the last words of suicide victims, we believe the issue will take on new and powerful meaning. The human face of military suicide is often lost and greatly depersonalized in just the statistics and numbers alone.

Publishing The Letters will help others understand that when someone takes their own life, they are more than just a number on a graph. They are human.

Our citizenry, lawmakers and government leaders must be exposed more directly to the human toll of military suicide. For many, suicide victims are simply just too easy to ignore, as long as they remain only numbers on a briefing chart.

For family members concerned about privacy and yet still wish to contribute the suicide letter written by a loved one here — but not reveal the suicide victim’s name or other personally identifiable details — those details may be redacted.

Something must change to end this ongoing and needless loss of life. Please submit letters here and they will be published “as is” on this page in order received.

Suicide victims must be given a voice.

Our country, our people, our leaders must know the truth.

3 Responses

  1. Where is the post that I just put on your site?

  2. Allow me to be very blunt, candid and forthright. The first thought of suicide occurs far in advance of the very last thought before suicide.

    I’m am not surprised to be the first to respond to this article. I am a retired Marine Corps Major and I, too, was in the fight to liberate the Iraqi people. In fact, we were the fighting command that liberated Falluja, Iraq. Yes, we lost more American’s during this single battle than all other campaigns.. Forget all of that, though. I think it’s time to face some realities here at home. Get this straight. America never has and never will confront the issue of military suicides. Evidenced by a lack of acknowledgement from out government and the false contention that the VA is handling it. We’ve seen who’s running the VA, so, It is by design that suicides remain a mystery. Reason, and as a commander, I will tell you this. No government wants to be viewed by the world has having weak citizen warriors. War ensues, we send young aggressive volunteers to win, the war ends and warriors return to the, now, unfamiliar sounds of peace, blank stares, blank thoughts, blank visions, blank hope, blank familiarity with self and with sheer emptiness.. Listening to others laugh is painful, hearing people engage in normal every day conversation is painful, the site of a lone deer grazing in a field is painful, the site of neighbors loading up their boat for a camping trip is painful. Yes, I get it. There are plenty of American’s who will project their gratefulness, but they will never understand, never care and never go above and beyond to insure the well-being of a soldier. Reason: They don’t know how. They can’t possibly understand what a veteran has experienced or how they are dealing with it. Here is an even more compelling reason. Most American’s aren’t brave enough to done a uniform or pick up a weapon to defend their country. For them to engage in a conversation with a true warrior veteran is intimidating. Consequently, they have no idea when a veteran needs help. It is for these reasons that I have decided to educate HR professionals on the likes of PTSD. Veteran’s aren’t just dealing with the traumatic event, they deal with attention issues, aggression issues, absent mindedness and these things tend to lead to divorce, estrangement, reclusion, job loss, financial woes, and finally, their first thoughts of suicide. I have had all of these experiences and I have had all of these thoughts. Why, because I have always felt responsible for the death of a young Marine Corps Captain. As a senior Infantry Major in Iraq, it was my job to ensure the safety of Marines. However, when a certain full-bird Colonel and I didn’t see eye to eye on a particular strategy, and I challenged his competency, not only did it cost the lives of a few Marines, he decided he would frame me by having me accused of a crime. Katy bar the door, I was now a mad mother f”r. If you’re interested in the full story, I would be more than happy to share it via email. As it was, I returned to America, secured a very lucrative job with a very well known government contract helicopter manufacturer and I would spend the next 4 years hiding deep inside hell. Like many others, I chose to hide the pain with Alcohol. In excess, mind you (every singe night for 4 years straight) and the only reason my bout with PTSD was delayed. If an officer tells you that they haven’t struggled with combat PTSD, it simply means they were never in the fight. Trust me. I was a decorated Marine Officer, well liked by juniors and seniors alike, the recipient of the Melvin T. Maas award for superior command leadership at the company level, a Master’s degree recipient from Texas A&M University and about to pursue my PhD. Then, all hell broke loose. Already struggling to pay child support on three children ($3400 per month), to keep my sanity each morning as I jogged to sweat out the previous evenings downing of a half pint of Jack Daniels, I received a phone call from the Washington Navy Yards NCIS claiming that I was being placed under investigation for the incident that occurred in Iraq nearly 5 years earlier. Before this I was simply visiting hell each and every time my mind wandered back to the incident that killed one of my Marines. Although I knew I hadn’t committed the crime that this Colonel accused me of, I did know that my security clearance would be denied (retirement ineligible) for smashing, with my fist, a piece of gov property that was conveniently placed in the path of my disgust over this certain Colonels claim. I volunteered for back to back deployments and this Colonel admitted that he didn’t even want to be there. I was 9 months from retirement, facing a long investigation, battling my demons and enough was enough. I simply walked into the Directors office, handed him my contractors badge, told him I was leaving and I never returned. I was battling my own thoughts, separation from my three daughters, alcohol and now, I was without a job. I packed up my belongings, drove 3 hours south to Austin, TX, parked my truck at a local YMCA, grabbed my backpack and walked as far down the heavily wooded walking path as I could. I eventually found a small cross bridge, crawled underneath, cleared a small area to extend my sleeping bag, opened my 9oz bottle of rum, drank it to completion and fell to sleep. If you’ve read this far, just know that you are the fist to learn that this bridge was my home for over a year. That was 4 years ago and to avoid the embarrassment of a false accusation, my first thoughts of suicide were born. However, something stopped me and an idea popped in my head. You see, I never really thought of myself as being homeless (as I clearly was), I felt like I was simply escaping all of the real and perceived threats by the government, thoughts of Iraq, the separation from my children and having no job. The idea that came to me was genius, I thought. I order to avoid the governments eventual termination of my security clearance, I simply decided to hide in the only place they would never search for me. I decided to hide from the government by working for the government. I quickly gathered my things, made it to my vehicle, took a shower at the YMCA, drove to the nearest Marine Corps unit and asked to speak with the Commanding Officer. I simply told the truth. I said, “I’m currently unemployed and would like to help his unit by joining active duty”. By doing this, I was able to accumulate enough annual points to satisfy my last and final year of service and I did so before these bozo’s in Washington to pull their investigation together. I was officially retired and I never heard another thing from the Washington Naval Adjudication Department. Bastards, I’m smarter than my own government. Guess it doesn’t take much. Oh, but it’s going to get much worse and the alcohol is going to prove to be my final nemesis. I received a phone call from my sister who claimed that she needed to tell me something that she had been concealing for years. She commenced to tell me that while I was in Iraq, my wife (ex now) was having an affair with my own father. So, I thought I’d have a drink. In fact, unsure of what I might do, I decided to return to the bridge once more. The war led to my Captains death, which led to my feelings of guilt, which led to my disagreement with a senior officer, which led to a false accusation, which led to an investigation, which led to my departure from society and loss of a job, which led to even more distance between myself and my children, which led to child support arrears, which led to my ex-wife excluding my children from my life, which led to a fight for my military retirement and in the midst of recovering, I received a phone call from my sister which led to my continued escape from it all. Then, it dawned on my the reason my own father (a late in life attorney) refused to represent me in my divorce case (upon returning from Iraq in ’05). He had been blackmailed by my ex and instead of the courts calculating my child support based on civilian pay, they based it off of my active duty deployed combat pay. It was double what I was making in my civilian job. I dealt with it for a while, but once I learned that my ex slept with my father for the purpose of blackmail and for favor in the courts, I called my own father and explained that our next encounter would result in one of us not standing. His response. He secretly confronted a Judge (friend of his) in Dallas, TX and they had me arrested and admitted to a local mental institution. Okay, I played the fucking Jack NIchleson games and pretended to be reading Shakespeare from the Yellow Pages for a week straight. Finally, the doctor walked in and said, “Get that son of a bitch out of here”. I laughed, crazily, and walked the fuck out of there. My own fucking father. Why? because in order for he and my ex to conceal their departure from all that we know as good, they needed to make it look like I was the crazy one. Well, at least in the event that my daughters were ever told. If you’ll remember, I was about to begin my PhD. Now, I’m out of a job, have no family, no place to live and a world that has seemingly lost its fucking mind. I’m a Marine Corps Commander, I don’t whine. I simply Roger’d up to suicide and said, “all ready on the right, all ready on the left”. It was time and I was ready. Before that though, I decided to drink an entire bottle of, well, really cheap shit, and call it, taps. Oddly, hours later I awoke to the close up sight of this friend looking directly into my eyes. She said, “not yet”. She said, “You must see your three daughters once more”. I guess she was simply searching for a way to keep me alive, so I raised up, cleared my eyes and said, okay. I don’t recall the details, but it was arranged for me to see my daughters on July 4th at my sisters home nearly an hour away. During the visit, the first day went fine and I never let on that anything was out of the ordinary. We laughed, cooked out, rode 4 wheelers and commenced with fireworks. It was the reunion that I’d longed for and my girls were huddled around the entire night. I honestly felt like I could somehow recover, move on and live this life. I was the happiest I’d been in nearly 6 years and I no longer cared about the Marine Corps. However, this same night would prove to be the worst night of any night I’d experienced in my 43 years on earth. I’ve never been one for drama, so let me assure you that none of what I’m telling you is for any other purpose than to simply reveal my own experiences. Following the many hugs and kisses “goodnight”, my daughters and their grandmother retired to their rooms for the night. As I began to sit quietly and alone in the driveway to consume the usual, my brother-in-law (a peace officer), slammed the front door open, ran towards me, got in my face and postured as if to attack me. Marines strike first, so he ended up sprinting towards the front door to avoid the inevitable. Low in behold, I had been set up and framed by him and my ex wife. This the reason they were so willing to allow the children to visit me (I later discovered). My ex, being constantly worried that I would divulge to my children her affair with their grandfather, she convinced my brother-in-law to have me jailed. Moments later and as I was sitting back down in the driveway, I could hear the siren’s coming from all directions. No way this was happening to me, so I stripped down to my shorts, grabbed my bottle and headed off into the woods. For 6 hours these poor nightshift police officers walked within feet of me and never did find me. They finally left the house, but they didn’t go far. I simply walked back to the house, got in my truck and blasted the horn. I sat in the county jail for 2 weeks with everyone thinking that I had attacked my brother-in-law. Their aim was to have me arrested on a domestic charges. Why? to keep me from ever owning a gun again. My father and ex convinced my brother-in-law to get involved and it has haunted him to this day. I’ve learned that he regrets his decision and the police department (his buddies) rejected him for betraying me. He was eventually pressured into quitting police department and when I was released, I was faced with never obtaining employment again, never owning a firearm, never seeing my children and forever being in debt. I had no family, no job and no place to live. So, I once again returned to the safety of my bridge. I didn’t have much, but I still owned my Pathfinder and a cheap laptop, I would spend countless hours moving from one Starbucks to another searching the internet for employment. Low and behold, I found a company in search of a Marine Commander. The job was for me to enter the organization and get rid of some very bad executives. I was in no condition to turn it down, so for the next year, I became a covert headhunter inside a very powerful and well known organization. The condition for employment was that I agree to being fired. You see, I had disrupted so many lives and had so many executives fired that in order for the company to protect their clandestine efforts to clean up the company, they had to make it look like I was terminated. They said that it was to protect me. That was 3 years ago and today I live 1300 miles away from everyone I’ve ever known, my family, relatives and all real and perceived threats. Today, I’ve decided that America will not sleep until they know something about PTSD and why it’s every American’s duty to understand it. We made it our duty to protect them and I will make it their duty to protect the veteran’s who protected them. Unlike all other attempts to stop the carnage, my target audience will be business leaders, all HR professionals and anyone with the guts to attend my seminar. If you’ve read this and you’re still okay with over 100,000 military suicides, get off of this website, feed your fat ass some anxiety food, turn on the TV and sit your ungrateful ass on the couch. The reason our brave men and women choose suicide is simple. We trained them to be tough and to never reveal their weaknesses. They would rather die than to appear weak. They would rather die than to have to explain themselves to a civilian who’s never even considered making a sacrifice for their own country. They’d rather die than to be rejected by the very society they protected. They’d rather die than listen to an ungrateful, lazy, complaining, self-serving American, Throw in a spouse that leaves and takes them for everything. Throw in a community that offers empty thanks and places more emphasis on water rationing than on warrior support. A nation indifferent to the sacrifices and sufferings of it’s fellow warriors is a nation ill-prepared to defend its future. When the scum bag enemies of our nation finally penetrate the borders and cross into America, you lazy, ungrateful bastards will wish like hell these 100,000 + warriors were still living next door, sitting in their garages and cleaning their hunting rifles. When the enemy does cross, what good reason will I have to protect you? You will cry like hell and run for the hills, but you’ll have no safe place to hide. We will stand and fight and when it’s over and you come crawling back, don’t worry, I wouldn’t waste a bullet on you. I know, if you could help, you would. Well, I’ll bet you never gave, trying, a second thought.

    Semper Fi,
    Major, USMC, Ret – Falluja Marines

    “Last Thoughts Before Suicide”.

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