Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Military Suicides in Iraq Bring Thougts of a Troubled Man

An Associated Press story detailing the suicide of a young 3rd Infantry Division soldier in Iraq revived memories of a man in my unit during the Korean War. The man who killed himself was a very troubled individual and both a psychiatrist and chaplain pointed this out to the company officers. The psychiatrist, however, said he was fit for duty. Chalk up one more score against psychiatry. Now the man is an Army statistic, one of more than 150 who have committed suicide in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His eccentric behavior placed his platoon sergeant and squad leader in difficult positions. They lacked authority to relieve him of duty and their concern for him had to take second place to their responsibility for the other men in the platoon and squad. Nearly all sergeants are willing to help those in their unit through a difficult period. It's part of the job, but a sergeant can't play nanny to one man at the expense of the others.
During the Korean War the 37th Infantry Division had finished up one training cycle at Camp Polk, many men had shipped out for Korea and replacements arrived to begin their training. Among the half dozen or so assigned to the mortar section in my company was an 18-year-old man named Eisenberg. While the others were quickly assimilated into the section, he refused to make any effort to become part of the group. In the barracks he would sit off by himself, refusing even to speak to anyone and frequently crying. He wouldn't even go to the mess hall to eat.
As section sergeant it was my job to work with him, try to help him adjust. It proved hopeless. He'd barely acknowledge my presence when I'd talk to him. After two or three days I forced him to go to the mess hall, almost having to frog march him there. He wouldn't use the utensils, instead just dipped his hands into the food so that most of it ended up smeared on his face or dripping from his chin. After the first day I was the only one who would sit at the same table with him and I was there only because it was my job.
I tried encouraging him and when that didn't work I attempted to shame him. Neither tactic proved successful. When it became obvious that I was starting to neglect more important duties in order to babysit him, I went to the company commander and explained the situation. Apparently he was a better officer than those in the unit of the man who killed himself in Iraq because a day or two later Eisenberg was shipped out. A couple of other men had to pack his duffel bag because he just sat staring at it. I had no idea where he went or what became of him and I didn't care. All that mattered was that he was gone and morale instantly improved in the mortar section.
The infantry isn't Sunday school or summer camp for misfits. Had better officers been in charge, that man in Iraq would have been long gone before the day he stuck a rifle in his mouth and squeezed the trigger. Goofing off when the opportunity arises is one thing and I did my share of it during both of my tours of duty in the Army. Being a dedicated malingerer is a far different story. Recruiting ads refer to "an Army of one." There is no such thing, of course. An army is a unit right down to squad level. The individual comes second and there is no other way an army can possibly be effective.
It is unfortunate when a man chooses to kill himself. The choice is his, however, so when it happens in the military it would be a mistake to focus on it or spend time probing the incident. Such efforts should be devoted to the well-being of those who make the best of what may be a less than pleasant situation. Like everything else in life, it does pass by.


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