A Marine Went to Washington to Save a Few Good Lives

Wade J. Spann, former Marine infantryman, tells Congress about post-service life and losing two of his closest Marine buddies to suicide.

Washington, DC
Sept. 23, 2008

Excerpts from Wade Spann’s testimony:

… I joined the United States Marine Corps on August 6, 2001. I fought along side my fellow Marines in 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment as an Infantryman on three separate and distinct tours in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Al Ramadi. While on my second tour, four of my fellow Marines and I were wounded by an IED attack on our HUMMVEE. I wish I could speak of the incident in detail but I do not remember a great deal due to the shrapnel that imbedded itself in the back of my head and the loss of conciseness. I quickly recovered from my immediate injury and returned back to the United States with my unit during that summer. The following year I deployed to Al-Ramadi, Iraq with my unit in March of 2005 …

… I want to speak about the main reason I came here today. As I am sure everyone is well aware, there is the strong brotherhood that is formed between men in combat. It has been over three years since my platoon turned in our weapons, dropped our packs, and took off our body armor, yet we continue to suffer causalities. On July 31 of this year, I received word from my best friend, Gunnery Sergeant Timothy Cyparski, that a member of our platoon had taken his life, that member was Corporal Timothy Nelson. Cpl. Nelson was an ideal Marine; he took on adversity, followed orders, respected authority, and was a relief during trying times. I had not spoken to Nelson since I got out, but the news took me back to fond memories with my fellow brother.

That week I talked to Cyparski regularly for support and answers. Nelson’s death had brought a lot of the guys from the platoon back together and persuaded me to call guys that I hadn’t talked to in years. From talking to other Marines in the platoon I found out that he had been recalled and was prepared to honor his country’s call back to service. Upon his medical inspection, the Doctor disqualified him from duty because he had been diagnosed with PTSD. This, among other things was a factor in his tragic death. Gunny Cyparski flew to Washington State to help Nelson’s newly wed wife and grieving family. He wanted to show them that Nelson will always be a brother to our platoon and that we will keep him in our hearts.

Sergeant Timothy Cyparski got a Bronze Star and a handshake from a general on April 1, 2006. He got promoted to the rank of gunnery sergeant and took his life Aug. 5, 2008

Only a week after Cyparski flew out to Washington, I received the most devastating call imaginable. My best friend and my mentor, Gunnery Sergeant Timothy Cyparski, had taken his life—leaving behind his wife and two beautiful young children. The news hit us hard within the company, and many Marines came together in search of answers to why we just lost two brothers in two weeks. To me, Cyparski was the greatest Marine infantryman and a role model for us all. During his years of service he received two bronze stars for valor and one Purple Heart, which he got when we were injured in the HUMVEE from the IED explosion. However, those awards do little justice to a man who was admired and respected by the whole battalion. To me he was a great influence, and I base much of my success in school to his encouragement. We constantly talked and I asked him for advice and guidance. This being said, Tim did suffer from the effects of war and he had difficulties in dealing with his experience in Iraq and recovering from his injuries. However, he was proactive in seeking treatment and hoped to one-day finish an academic degree to better provide for his family.

I consider Cpl. Nelson and GySgt. Cyparski to be combat causalities. Their deaths were a result of their combat duty and this great nation lost two outstanding heroes that can never be replaced. Our country is a little weaker now because of this …

… I have great hope that the VA will be able to carry its message to a larger scope of audience. It needs to employ the very best that America has to offer in media and public awareness. If the Army and Marine Corps can sponsor commercials and half-time shows I believe that the VA can do an equally good job at putting the word out during those same time slots and to those same viewers. My demographic watches professional sporting events, MTV, The History, Military, and Discovery channels—we are a fairly easy to target audience.

America is generous and grateful to its veterans. This fact is shown by the many organizations and individual Americans who have donated time and money to assisting us. However the problem lays in connecting the veteran to these services. A veteran cannot ask for something if he does not know it exists or where to go to receive it.

I came here today for action. I know being here today will not change the fact that my two friends will never return. However, if speaking before you in this room can do anything to prevent another one of my fellow brothers in arms from going down that same path, then it will be a success. I know that the VA knows that media outreach is a necessity in order to inform veterans about their resources, it must happen now. This is a situation where over-saturation of the message is not possible. I ask America’s elected leaders to stand up, unite under a solid commitment to do what ever it takes to put an end to these unnecessary losses. Corporal Nelson and Gunnery Sergeant Cyparski made a solemn oath to our nation, please make one on their behalves.

Read his full testimony:


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