Vet Post Honors PTSD Victim, a Suicide

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Vet Post Honors PTSD Victim, a Suicide

Knight Ridder Vet Post Honors PTSD Victim, a Suicide Tribune   |  January 03, 2008 VIRGINIA, Minn. - The people of the Northeastern Minnisota's Iron Range are not likely to forget Army Specialist Noah C. Pierce.

Cheryl Softich, his mother, said that she lived the Iraq war experience through her son's poetry, and after he died in late July -- killing himself in his truck -- she learned even more when she insisted upon driving the vehicle home.

"I now know what that smell of death is like that he had talked about," Softich said.

In Virginia, at the Servicemen's Club at 229 Chestnut St., the veterans know of Pierce, as well, and they will for a long time: American Veterans Post 33 has been named in his honor.

AMVETS Commander Shawn Carr said Saturday that while Pierce, 23, did not die in action, he considers the decorated Soldier a war-related casualty because of Pierce's battles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Raising awareness about PTSD is a mission of the post, which was chartered in April and has about 35 members. A lot of Vietnam vets are saying, "It's about time," Carr said of the public campaign.

To his knowledge, Virginia's AMVETS post is the first to take the name of a suicide victim, Carr said. He expected "a firestorm" locally, but there's been little controversy.

Still, the online version of a Mesabi Daily News story about the Dec. 15 naming ceremony led one anonymous reader to write that he or she could not "jump on the 'injuries received in combat' bandwagon. ... [W]e all have had things go off the beaten path in life and we deal with it. Suicide is the coward's way out."

Wrote Carr in reply: "I think you would have peed your pants if you had to endure 5 min. of what Noah went thru."

Pierce did two tours of duty with the Army's Third Infantry Division, first in Kuwait and then in Iraq, before returning home in 2006. He had plans for a third tour, his mother said.

Although he grappled with PTSD, he routinely would miss his counseling appointments, she said, prompting her to ask him one day to put his experiences on paper.

English always had been his favorite subject, though Pierce never would have admitted that "to anyone but mom," Softich said.

She discovered the poems when Pierce lent a notepad to his stepfather earlier this year. She photocopied them and returned the notepad without letting on that she had seen them, she said. A few weeks later the subject came up, and he asked her what she had thought of them. The poems would be a part of their last conversation, too, Softich said.

"I said, 'Your writing puts the person right there,'" she said.

In "Friends," Pierce wrote of Iraqi kids in need, and about one boy in particular, a 7-year-old who would get Pierce food, and to whom he would give water: "No english / No arabic / Yet we still understand each other."

In "Dust," Pierce wrote of the winds, and of the bucket of sand that seemed to be dumped in his lap. The landscape, he wrote, had vehicles "upside down all over."

In "2nd time," he called Iraq "this godforgotten country," where smoking is a necessity, and the "girlfriends, the parties, the training / GONE."

There would be gnawing guilt, too, as he wrote in "WTF," which told of his shooting of an Iraqi doctor, whom he had mistaken for a suicide bomber: "The investigation said it was done by the books / I ask myself, 'What the [expletive] kind of war is this?'"

The poetry, since copyrighted by his mother, has appeared in the publication the Rogue Voice.

Softich wants it known that she is no war protester. She believes in the war, she said, "because my son believed in it." If we pulled out now, Pierce told her, "we'd see an attack worse than 9/11," she said.

But Softich thinks there ought to be a "Noah Clause" written into every military contract requiring Soldiers who see combat to receive counseling once they are home -- at least once every two weeks for a year. She plans to take that message to Congress, she said, first by sending to national media outlets a DVD of interviews she did with a Duluth TV reporter.

"I will not stop until I have accomplished it," Softich said of the counseling requirement. "My husband said, 'I'll be here when you get done.'"

Talking about her son, she said, gets her excited, pumped up. He died, Softich said she believes now, so that she could know about PTSD and push for that mandatory counseling.

"If there was that clause in his contract, he would have gone," Softich said. "Because Noah always kept his word."

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