EVELETH, Minn. (WCCO) — There’s a silent war happening at home, far from the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Defense said an average of 18 veterans a day are committing suicide.
“At night, I always ask God to hold him, and I ask God to let me please see him in a dream, because it’s almost been four years since my son’s been dead,” Cheryl Softich said about her son, Army Spc. Noah Pierce, who committed suicide when he was 23.
Softich often visits the spot where her son took his life in Eveleth, Minn. It’s a powerful, painful and highly personal reminder of the war in Iraq, where Pierce served twice.
His death is now his mother’s constant reminder of the mission she’s now taken on.
“I will talk about him till the day I die,” Softich said. “I will not let anybody forget my son.”
Pierce was in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. He served on the front lines when America invaded Iraq, fresh out of high school and filled with confidence, courage and patriotism.
“Noah was proud of his country. Proud to be an American,” his mother said. “And he was proud of his service.”
He wrote poems and emailed home, telling the horrors of the war he was experiencing. One example was the time he was ordered, Softich said, to shoot a doctor.
War changed him, she said, to the point he became hurt, confused and angry. Doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder when he came home.
Pierce went missing four years ago. The frantic search ended with a chilling discovery on July 26, 2007, not far from where he grew up.
“Mom, I am so sorry,” his mother said, as she read his suicide note. “Time’s up! I’m not a good person. I have done bad things. I have taken lives. Now it’s time to take mine.”
Pierce put his dog tag to his head, pointed the gun and pulled the trigger.
“He’s a casualty of war, and that proves it,” said Softich, pointing to her son’s tag with a bullet hole through it.
Her son’s war, his personal hell at home, was over.
“Noah did not take the easy way out. There was no choice left for him,” his mother said. “Some say it was the easy way out. Walk one block in Noah’s boots, in the shape he was in, and tell me it was the easy way out. It was not the easy way out.”
Pierce will never be counted among the war dead, because he committed suicide after fighting. The military only counts soldier suicides during combat. There are thousands of others just like him.
The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit organization, reports more than 300,000 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Only one out of every four received acceptable care, according to the Rand Corporation.
Pierce, his mother said, fell into that category.
“When he went for help, ‘Oh, here take some Ambien, you’ll feel better.’ Yeah, give him some sleeping pills. Well, that don’t help,” she said.
The U.S. military requires a health assessment once members return home, but Softich said it didn’t do enough for her son.
“Could he still be here today?” asked WCCO-TV’s James Schugel. “Yes,” answered Softich.
She wants the military to add a clause in its contract, mandating veterans see a therapist every two weeks for a full year once they return from war.
“I asked him point blank, ‘Had the army ordered you to seek counseling for a full year, at least a full year that you were out, would you go to counseling?’ He says, ‘If I was ordered to, I would have had to,'” Softich said.
Until the clause is added like she wants, Softich won’t stay silent about her son or her mission: To keep other American heroes from falling like her son did.
“If I could have anything in the world, anything in the world, just one more hug from Noah, just one more whiff of his smell. But I don’t get what I want. And that’s OK. As long as I can help others,” she said while crying.
The V.A. Medical Center in the Twin Cities and the U.S. Army declined interviews on soldier suicide.
Several of Minnesota’s senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., did not respond to WCCO-TV’s requests for an interview.