A Military Man

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 [2011] 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.

Old Jules

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.

13 responses to “A Military Man

  1. Enjoyed this post very much, thank you for sharing it and Richard with us.

  2. What a terrible story.. and a convenient fire.. c

  3. As usual and enthralling anecdote Jules. I always get pleasure from reading your posts, even if they are sad such as this one. I wonder how many other ‘stories’ there are out there that we will never ever hear? And not American, every now and then, we hear some kind of similar story about British guys .
    What a disgusting waste of a promising life.

  4. The world keeps rolling along with indifference. This is a tragic story you told today. I am without words.

  5. Thanks for sharing Richard’s story. My heart bleeds at the betrayal by those we most trust.

  6. I can only shake my head in disgust. Unfair. Morally wrong. Objectionable. A perfectly healthy human being destroyed. For what?

  7. Thank you for telling Richard’s story. What a shameful and criminal thing that he had done to him by those supposedly on the same side.

  8. It seems The U.S. Govt/Army did all sorts of testing on soldiers,citizens,foreign countries,etc. We are supposed to be the good guys!! Sorry about the loss of your friend on several levels!


  9. My father was, to say the very least, unbalanced and delusional. He made constant references to his military experience. His enlistment happened to coincide with experiments at Fort Dix. I requested his military record only to discover it was destroyed in the same fire.

    Like you, I have a lack of regard for career military men; not trustworthy, towing the line.

  10. What a terrible thing to have happened. When people enter military service, they expect to face risks / threats from external agencies in the defence of their state. The last thing you would expect would be for the threat to come from within. Truly tragic. Good thing he had you as a friend.

  11. Great post Jules! Unlike you, most of the stories that I have heard about military experiences were assimilated to “growing pains”. Several years ago however, a cousin that was close to me died in service.His ex-wife was bi-polar and they attributed this to part of the problem. It seems that he committed suicide due to “external stresses”. This was the first “red flag”. He never let his ex bother him. Then at the funeral his Mom wanted to view the body which they refused. Finally, they informed her that if she pressed the matter they would cut-off survivors benefits to his children. I may be wrong, but I didn’t realize the military paid benefits on suicide. Second “red flag”. Lastly, and probably most stupid, when either of us got hurt it seemed that the other could feel the pain. I have never felt anything. It is like he just vanished. In my mind I wonder if he may be working for the CIA or some other covert agency. Thanks for sharing Richard’s story. God Bless You, Grant

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