This soldier's death won't be counted â€¦
December 30, 2006
I started to write about how this story represented one among thousands of real, personal human tragedies that get swallowed up by our political debates over the occupation of Iraq Ã¢â‚¬Â¦
James E. Dean's first Christmas as a married man was supposed to be a joyous affairÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
But everything good in Dean's life had been overshadowed by a letter he received three weeks earlier. The letter, from U.S. Army headquarters, instructed him to report to Fort Benning, Ga., on Jan. 14. From there, he was likely to be sent to Iraq.
Dean had already fought in one war, serving 12 months as a sergeant, leading a small infantry unit on the front lines in Afghanistan. Army records show that he was an excellent soldier, and he had a fistful of awards to prove it: for service in defense of the nation, good conduct and outstanding marksmanship with rifles and grenades. He was such a good soldier, in fact, an Army spokesman said, that the military needed him back just three weeks after his first Christmas with his wife.
He couldn't stomach the thought. His post-traumatic stress disorder, which was diagnosed shortly after he returned from Afghanistan, became worse immediately after he received the letter -- and so did his drinking and his rages, family members said. He would break down in front of his wife, telling her over and over that nobody knew what it had been like.
"The next time you see me, it's going to be in a body bag," she said he told her as he walked out of their house for the last time.
On Christmas night, Dean drove to his childhood home on the farm where his parents still live. He took up one of his hunting guns and called his family; he said he was going to kill himself. Fourteen agonizing hours later, he was dead -- not by his own bullet but by that of a Maryland state trooper.