Previously posted August 21, 2005:
The man in this picture is my old friend Richard Sturm.
[Note: I’m going to edit this a bit before I post it to the So Far From Heaven blog, add and subtract a few hindsights and afterthoughts. Jules]
Richard died in December, 2004, in Port Lavaca, Texas.
Richard was a 100% disabled veteran of the United States Army. From 1964, until his death he spent his entire adult life in and out of Veterans hospitals. When he wasn’t in a hospital he was usually in a café somewhere drinking coffee and being friendly with anyone who’d give him the time of day.
Or he was with me, camping, fishing, seeing the sights, singing, passing the time. That happened less than he’d have liked, probably more than I’d have preferred in a lot of instances. Richard wasn’t an easy man to be around.
A while back  his brother and I were discussing Richard, and Vic remarked, “You never really saw Richard when he was at his worst.” I didn’t say so at the time, but I think I spent a lot more time with Richard over the years than Vic did, or than Vic was ever aware I did.
Aside from Richard, all those Sturms were super-achievers, and although I spent a lot of years from 1965 onward considering Vic among my best friends, he was a busy man. People sought him out. If I wanted to talk to him, I called him. Over all those decades I could count on one hand the times he initiated a contact between the two of us. “People call me. I don’t call them,” he explained to me once when I mentioned it to him. I’d guess that applied to Richard, same as it did to me.
But that’s digression, edited in this May, 2012, with a lot of hindsight.
Before Richard volunteered for the Army he was a patriotic youth, intelligent, dynamic, from a family of super-achievers. He graduated from high school with honors, well liked and respected by his teachers and classmates. A young man with a future. Then he joined the US Army.
In 1964, he was stationed in Massachusetts with the Army Security Agency. Without his knowledge or consent, he was selected for an experiment by the career military men who were his superiors. He was given a massive dose of LSD. He sustained permanent brain damage as a result.
Richard spent several months in a mental ward of an Army hospital, presumably under observation by the powers-that-be, to see what they’d wrought. Then they gave him is medical discharge, released him from service and from the hospital, and sent him home without confiding to anyone what the problem was and why it happened.
Several years later after he’d been examined, had his thyroid removed, given electric shock treatments, everything the puzzled medicos could think of to try and improve this mysterious condition, his brother, an attorney, came to suspect something of what had happened. The stories of events of this sort had begun to creep out of hiding and into the press.
A formal demand was made for release of his records, and finally the story came out.
Richard wasn’t injured defending his country. He didn’t get his skull fractured on some battlefield by enemies. He was betrayed by the career military men of his own country, officers and enlisted men, whom he’d given an oath to obey and defend. He served in good faith, and he was betrayed by his country.
Some have noted on the threads that I don’t have an automatic high regard for career military men. They’re correct. Richard’s just an extreme example of thousands of men who’ve been killed, injured, disabled by irresponsible, insane, and idiotic decisions by men who make a career of blindly following orders without thinking, weighing consequences, not feeling any remorse so long as they were ordered to do it.
Like good little NAZIs, Japanese, Soviets, Israelies, Americans, Cambodians, British, Africans, Chinese, Cubans, Argentinans and military men everywhere. Just following orders.
Support our troops.
2012 note: During a conversation with Vic in 2011, I mentioned the LSD experiment and Vic replied, “It’s a shame I could never prove it. Richards records were all destroyed in a fire at the Army Records Holding Center in the late 1960s.” Live and learn. Somewhere back there, I must have heard it from Richard, I came to think the records had been uncovered and it was established, official fact.