Pfc. Darrel J. Riblett, who won the Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel in a November attack near Kazimiyah, Iraq, died Aug. 14 of a self- inflicted gunshot wound. He was 20.The Denver Post obituary tells of how, as a child, Darrel loved his blankie and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It tells stories of a four-year-old Darrel crashing his mother's car in a Costco parking lot, and a sixteen-year-old Darrel restoring a 1969 Mustang. And it tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Darrel who so admired the military service of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather that he got a waiver from his father to join the Army Reserves. In May of 2003, Darrel left Fort Riley, Kansas for Iraq; six months later, he received a shrapnel wound so serious "that later, in Germany, surgeons could remove it only by forcing the metal out through the other side."
Darrel came home to a Purple Heart, a welcoming family, and a high school sweetheart that he married in April. And August 14, at age 20, he killed himself.
A story was found on Darrel's computer after his death. It was about a knight "whose armor hides deep misery from his admirers," the obituary says. Darrel wrote, "A black, hardened shell is sometimes all that is seen covering the dark, withering heart once full of happiness and joy. But once again, there is hope, and despair should not rule, or will it. ..."
Darrel wasn't the first soldier to take his own life after returning from Iraq. In January, Spc. Jeremy Seeley poisoned himself in a Kentucky hotel room. In March, Chief Warrant Officer William Howell chased his wife around their Colorado home with a revolver before shooting himself. In late August, Sgt. David Guindon killed himself the day after returning from Iraq. Two soldiers have killed themselves at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And according to the Marine Corps Times, at least 29 soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq between March of 2003 and March of 2004.
But as far as I know, Darrel Riblett was the youngest. Darrel, who loved his blankie as a child and his Mustang as a teenager and his country enough to join the Army Reserves when he wasn't even old enough to do so without parental consent, was twenty when he died. He wasn't old enough to drink. He wasn't old enough to reserve a hotel room or rent a car. But he was old enough to go to Iraq and see things and do things and bring things back with him such that he couldn't live with it when he got home.
I really try to avoid profanity, but what in the fucking hell are we doing to our soldiers? We send them to Iraq for some ridiculous war with a thousand different bullshit justifications, and the ones who don't get killed by guerillas or suicide bombers or roadside ambushes we abandon to the horror of thoughts and memories and experiences that no human being should be expected to handle on their own. We send 18-year-olds to Iraq to die and to watch their friends die, and we expect them to take it like men, shake it off, rub some dirt in it.
And we do this. We do. Not just Bush, or his administration or whatever - us. Because we don't question. Those who have the power to question don't question. Bush claims to be the best thing that's ever happened to the military and it's bullshit and we don't question. He says that he's raising their pay and their benefits and making sure that everyone is getting counseling when they get home and it's bullshit and we don't question. He says that the war in Iraq is justified and that we're doing good things and that it's a "catastrophic success" and it's bullshit because young men - little boys, practically - are coming home from Iraq and killing themselves and we don't even fucking question.
When John Kerry was asked whether he would vote again to give Bush the power to declare war, knowing what he now knows, Kerry said sure. He said that, as president, he would hope to have the same power. And at the time, it made sense to me - he wasn't voting for the war, he was voting to give the president the authority to decide if war was the best option.
I've changed my mind, though, because I do know what I now know. What I now know is that Bush - and everyone who pulls the Bush puppet strings - is a complete and fucking moron who can't handle authority. I now know that the vote wasn't giving military authority to a rational adult, it was giving a loaded gun to a methed-out teenager. So I'm going to have to hold John Kerry responsible for Darrel Riblett's death, along with everyone else who voted to give Bush the authority. And I'll also lay the blame on everyone who voted for the legislators who voted to give Bush the authority. And I'll lay the blame on everyone who voted for Bush. But most of the blame, the overwhelming majority of the blame, goes on Bush himself. God forbid - I pray to God that He will forbid - that Bush ends up in the White House for another four years, because we're running out of twenty-year-olds with big hearts.