The Warrior Was a Child
By Marty Webster
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They don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
'Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child
When the veterans return home to southern Ohio, they are greeted at the airport by family, friends, and grateful patriots. There are welcome-home celebrations and parties. Often there are parades with bagpipe bands and motorcycle clubs. The streets are lined with well-wishers and toddlers waving miniature flags.
Of course, there are those who return to southern Ohio to be laid to rest. They are honored for giving their lives for their country (or perhaps having their lives taken from them). Once again, the bagpipes are present. The fire department is there too, with ladder trucks adorned with giant American flags to welcome the fallen heroes home. Recently a horse-drawn caisson carried a soldier to his final resting place.
Honor is always given to those who have been placed in harm's way in the service of their country.
But there are others who return without such accolades. On January 18, I attended a memorial and interment ceremony for an Iraq war veteran in Arlington Memorial Gardens, located in a small western suburb of Cincinnati. There was no hero's welcome. There were no flags, bagpipe bands, or motorcycle clubs. There was no procession. There were no parties. Very few people were there—no politicians, no media. Just the family, and a few veterans who know firsthand the horrors of war.
Specialist Douglas Barber had found peace. He was a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who took his own life after returning from Iraq. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a big part of why he died—PTSD that originated from the time Doug had spent in the war in Iraq. Another contributing factor was the failure of the VA to provide adequate mental-care services to heal the wounds of war.
This young man, like many others, came home to face himself in the mirror. He was not the young man who had left for Iraq. He was a young man who had come home from war and realized what he had been ordered to do and what he had seen, and he couldn't live with it. He ended his life the way he was trained: with violence.
This is not the first time that a soldier has taken his life after returning from the battlefield. Even today, the list of the tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide continues to grow.
Candy Lovett was there. Candy is a Desert Storm veteran who suffers from PTSD and a debilitating spinal virus from an anthrax shot administered in Iraq. She had recently met Doug in Florida. Candy drove many painful miles to be at Doug's funeral, and she prayed that he had finally found peace.
Bob Kincses is a Vietnam veteran from Indiana who quietly attends as many veterans' funerals in the Midwest as possible. He feels that someone from 'Nam should always be there to stand the vigil.
Jerry Smith, a US Army 'Nam combat veteran, was there. Jerry is a Cincinnati VVAW member; he is also a member of After 'Nam, a rap group of combat veterans who discuss how PTSD affects their daily lives.
Reverend Benjamin J. Urmston was also there. The director of Xavier University's peace and justice programs, Father Urmston is a World War II veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace.
We five had come to bear witness and to honor Doug. And as a stepsister of Doug sang "Amazing Grace" and Twila Paris's "The Warrior Is a Child," tears streamed down the faces of the strangers. Ripped bodies, broken lives, immense pain, and deep sorrow—all came back to them. They had come as strangers, but they bonded as brothers and sisters, as they had many times, with many others, in many places in the past. But the strangers had only come to watch. Yes, someone must always be there to watch when the innocent blood of our children drips on newspapers printed in vacant lots.
VVAW will never forget. VVAW can never forget. VVAW will never leave any veteran behind, and we know all too well that people are not dead until they are forgotten.
Marty Webster is a Vietnam-era veteran who served in a naval hospital during the war. He experienced the results of war firsthand from a medical perspective, treating young men who came back from Vietnam with facial wounds and burns. Marty also worked with TDRLs and medevacs and on escort duty. Like countless others, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Marty is the VVAW regional contact for Cincinnati, Ohio.
(l-r) Candy Lovett, Dessert Storm Veteran;
Marty Webster VVAW Cincinnati Contact;
Jerry Smith, VVAW Cincinnati Member;
Bob Kincses, USMC 1967-70