Friday, January 7, 2011

Violent Death Surrounds Soldiers' Fate As War Winds Down

The voice comes booming out of an old news video about coming home to a nation unreceptive and hostile to a soldier's war time experience.

“I did not feel a part of our culture...I felt I might as well have gone to France...I felt totally isolated,” John Wheeler said on camera many years ago while raising money for a Vietnam War Memorial that he and a few others saw completed on the National Mall across the street from the White House.

In a final video appearance just hours before landfill workers saw John Wheeler's body tumble from a garbage truck, he was caught on video tape wandering confused, incoherent, wearing one shoe, talking about how someone robbed him.

It is a fact that he was scheduled to return to his Delaware home from Washington, D.C., on an Amtrak train, but it is unknown how he actually arrived there in the office building.

People who approached trying to help him were rebuffed and say his behavior was strange, to say the least.

Mr. Wheeler was a decorated Army combat veteran of Vietnam, a member of three Republican presidential administrations, including the George W. Bush White House, and was working for a contractor which routinely provides hundreds of millions of dollars in services to such agencies as CIA and the Department of Defense.

What happened between the time he was last seen wandering the corridors of the Nemours Office Building in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, and people saw him fall dead from the garbage truck is anybody's guess.

Lawmen tracing his last movements know he had to have been murdered, then placed in any one of the 10 dumpsters that line the downtown route the truck traveled between Wilmington and the landfill on the outskirts of the industrial hub city of Newark.

This was not the fate of a mafia chieftain, or an itinerant soldier turned to crime. This was a West Point graduate, a faithful servant of three Republican presidents, and one of the nation's foremost advocates of veterans' rights.

He is not alone.

Nationwide, hundreds upon hundreds of military veterans who are unable to cope with civilian life, or even garrison postings in forts and bases throughout the nation, meet a violent death each day.

Americans who would like to know why their nation continues to win wars but lose the subsequent peace are beginning to demand answers to their questions.

The fact that many of them first murder their spouse, then take their owns lives is a grim reminder that this is a problem that is not only baffling, it just does not go away.

It looks like it won't get any better on its own.

Even expert help is glaringly ineffective.

What do you do when the expert provider of mental health care goes haywire and perpetrates an attack on soldiers wearing the same uniform – on post and in country.

Aside from the spectacular mass killing perpetrated by Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood in November 2009, in which 13 people were gunned down in cold blood while 33 were wounded and suffered critical wounds inflicted by the Major's two powerful handguns, there are the nagging murder-suicides that take place on a nearly routine basis in the surrounding Killeen community.

For instance, there is the case of Sammuel Woodberry, a black soldier from Ft. Hood, who made repeated unwanted and violent visits to the home of Lynda Brunette Johnson in Killeen.

Police reports show that they cleared the domestic violence calls which begain in August and continued through September, October and November in as little as a few minutes from the time the dispatcher was contacted by 911 and the time they quit the scene of the alleged disturbance.

After a disturbing number of such calls, the soldier returned and murdered Ms. Johnson, then turned the gun on himself. The only real witness left alive was a son who was present when the final moments of the tragedy unfolded on December 4.

Killeen Police Department officials are extremely reluctant to release details of the killings. They claim to do so would violate a confidential bond between themselves and witnesses and would chill any possibility of conducting further, hopefully more successful investigations. In fact, in this case alone, the police department filed requests for more than one Attorney General's opinion on what to release about the case.

Aside from the mass killings of 24 people at a Luby's Cafeteria in October, 1991, Killeen has been the site of numerous soldier on soldier or soldier on family violence.

In July 2009, Army Sgt. Ryan Schlack died after being shot while trying to break up a fight at Ft. Hood. Authorities charged Spc. Armando Ray Baca with first degree murder.

In September 2008, Spc. Jody Michael Wirawan of Eagle River Alabama fatally shot 1st Lt. Robert Bartlett Fletcher just days before he was scheduled to be discharged.
In July 2007, the wife of a Ft. Hood soldier lost her life in a murder-for-hire plot when a gunman opened fire on her at a VFW post in Kempner, 18 miles from Killeen. A court sentenced Army Sgt. 1st Class Donald Dean Gower to life in prison without parole in August 2008.

In March 2005, Ft Hood Army Sgt. Jason Cline flew from Texas to California and plotted with Sharonmarie Ball to kill her husband, Navy Petty Officer John Ball, who was stabbed in the chin and right hand, but survived. Cline was sentenced to 12 years in prison in February 2006.

In April 2005, former Army medic John D. Mayer Jr. of Ft. Hood pleaded guilty in feeral court in Waco to charges in the dethof his 2-year-old stepdaughter. He had been watching the child while the mother was deployed to Iraq.
In July 2004, Ft. Hood officials identified the bodies of solders Erin Elizabeth Edwards and her estranged husband, Sgt. William McKinley Edwards, both of whom perished in a murder-suicide.

These may be considered victims of a war that did not terminate on the battlefield of a foreign nation, but on American soil.

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