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Becky Hall’s son had experienced a flashback, fleeing a relative’s home after sensing that Iraqi insurgents had surrounded him. He was 24, a former Marine corporal from Indiana who had been medically discharged after a bomb ripped through his leg. Here, among the retirees and strip malls, he was a stranger.
Mr. Hall’s story, to many, sounded familiar. And in the end, it connected military families from coast to coast. He was among the thousands who had been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq more than once. When he came home in 2005 after being wounded by a bomb that killed his close friend, he was forced to endure repeated surgery, post-traumatic stress and the loss of his career in the Marine Corps.
At his parents’ home in Indiana one day, he told his mother that he no longer fit in.
“Everyone is moving on,” he said. “Look at me. I’m not.”
An Iraq Veteran
“Who’s Michael?” he asked his wife.
She had tried to keep it from him. Specialist Michael Woodliff had been one of Mr. Huether’s recruits. Only 22 and engaged to be married, he was killed in Baghdad in April 2004 by a bomb that ripped through his Humvee.
Mr. Huether immediately felt responsible.
“Emotionally, it was devastating,” Mr. Huether said. “He wasn’t just a number. He was a friend and fellow noncommissioned officer. Granted, he died doing what he loved. But I was the one that led him to it.”
The Vietnam Veterans
Charlie Shaughnessy; Thomas McCarthy, known as Wolf; Jerry Lutz, known as Animal; and Bob Constabile were strangers before Eric Hall disappeared. Each had been a marine. Each had fought in Vietnam and struggled with the consequences.
Animal and Wolf, who still prefer their Vietnam nicknames, struggled with homelessness. Mr. Shaughnessy spent four years living without electricity in the woods of upstate New York before rejoining society. And even then, he said, he overcame the experience only with intense therapy.
“The military has an effect on your life forever,” Mr. Shaughnessy said between cigarettes in his living room this month. “Forever.”
When Eric Hall’s parents talk about him before Iraq, two elements stand out: his tenaciousness and his love of the Marine Corps.
He was the skinny 12-year-old who played catcher on baseball teams with teenagers because he could always hold onto the ball when a runner slammed into home. And in the Marines, his family said he found his niche – a society where everyone was equal, without ranks on their combat uniforms.
Her toughness impressed the veterans. They called her “our commander.” She in turn cherished their dedication, which she suspected brought costs especially for Mr. Shaughnessy, who later said he was suffering again with nightmares of war.
The last couple of sentences will complete the tears some will have welling up in their eyes!