Sunday, August 1, 2010

E. Alan Brudno

It has been a while since I have written. Things have been busy here. We recently returned from a week in Washington DC. A lot of things about that trip have stuck in my mind, but there is one thing in particular that I can't stop thinking about.

E. Alan Brudno. The only person to have his name on the Vietnam War Memorial who committed suicide after returning to the United States. Brundo had been a POW and killed himself shortly after he was freed and sent home.

In order to get your name on that wall you must have either died in battle, or died of wounds associated with the war. They are still adding names today of those who have died of complications from wounds years later. But the wounds must be physical, not mental. The damage that is done to one's brain is not considered reason enough to have your name on that wall. E. Alan Brudno was an exception, because his family fought - for years - to get him there.

When I asked one of the very nice men at the Vietnam Memorial if people who killed themselves after the war would get their names on that wall, he told me no, told me about Brundo and then told me that, "Even John McCain doesn't think they should get their names on the wall. He was a prisoner of war and he didn't do that." I guess if John McCain can tough it out, then everyone should be able to? Well, some people survive gun wounds to the head and some don't. Those who don't, get their names on that wall.

I heard recently that we have lost more soldiers in these two wars we are in from suicide than we have from combat. This of course on the heals of constant stories about how the military is putting extensive resources into mental health care for our service men and women. If this many people were dying from surgery complications, we'd get new surgeons.

I don't profess to know anything about what it's like to be at war, or to survive it. What I do know is that if you don't count those who kill themselves as casualties of war, the numbers sure do go down. Imagine how many more names would be on that wall if Brundo was not the only one up there who took his own life? I do know that suicide is a scary thing for people to talk about, so we don't and it still happens. I do know that brilliant, creative, caring minds snuff themselves out every day - and leave their loved ones behind asking why and looking for help. I do know that it is unacceptable not to have acknowledged these men and women then - and that we don't today - as casualties of war. I do know that we must do better.

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