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Veterans who survived war can be casualties at home

Published May 20. 2019 12:54PM

Many American veterans face daily struggles in their post-military lives.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans a day tragically die from suicide.

Veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder varies by service era. About 11-20 percent of those who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. For Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, it’s about 12 percent); and for the Vietnam War, it rises to about 15 percent. An estimated 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

The loss of any veteran is difficult, but it’s hard to understand the death of those who survive in wartime and then suddenly become casualties on the home front.

Some famous American veterans whose sudden deaths rocked the nation included:

• Tom Mix, the cowboy-movie star who made 370 full-length Westerns and at the peak of his fame was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, was killed in 1940 when he lost control of his speeding car in Arizona. The swaggering hero of the Wild West fought in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Boer War; and served as a sheriff in Kansas, a U.S. marshal in Oklahoma and a Texas Ranger.

• Audie Murphy, who received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army during World War II, was killed in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia, in 1971. A long time before the effects of the war wore off Audie Murphy had nightmares. He couldn’t go to sleep without a loaded German Walther automatic pistol under his pillow. After someone once asked Murphy how people managed to survive a war, he replied: “I don’t think they ever do.”

• Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded several commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat, was murdered at a shooting range in Texas in 2013 by a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder … who Kyle was trying to help.

Few people outside of his neighborhood community in Cape Coral, Florida, knew Gregory Moore. But those who did cross his path knew he had a big heart. He often went out of his way to say hello to people on the street.

His Vietnam buddies at the military museum in Cape Coral, Florida, where he hung out, knew him as “Pepper.” Three weeks ago, the kindhearted veteran was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking near his home. For a man who survived the jungle warfare in Southwest Asia only to be killed while walking across the street in his own neighborhood, it was a sad ending.

Just a day before Pepper’s death we learned of the untimely death of World War II veteran Frank Manchel, who lived in a retirement home in California. The 95-year veteran collapsed aboard a chartered jet shortly before it was due to land. Just before the fatal attack he was seen and heard laughing, chatting and having a good time with his comrades on the flight.

Manchel’s son Bruce, a doctor, tried giving him CPR for 12 minutes, but he could not be revived. As the plane was landing, people on board, although shaken by the sudden death, began singing “God Bless America” in honor of Manchel.

The Honor Flight is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for veterans, who receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials. The veterans receive VIP treatment during every step of their trip, from airport terminal to the memorials in D.C.

Frank’s son said in the Facebook post: “My father’s passing was the ending to the most amazing weekend, surrounded by his newest best friends.”

World War II service members like Frank are called “The Greatest Generation” for a reason. They were fighting global evil on foreign battlefields 75 years ago to protect the freedoms we hold so dear. Their deaths were untimely, but their sacrifices to keep us free are an everlasting legacy.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

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