Death After War: A Minnesota Soldier’s Story

By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

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.

  • Cheryl

    PTSD left untreated will kill you from the inside out. PTSD makes you a POW in your own mind and normal choices are eventually taken away. Noah did not take the easy way out. PTSD is a killer. I personally am very proud of Noah and his service to his country – his lifelong dream. Everyone needs to learn more about the signs of PTSD and not belittle a person with it, but HELP them. If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.

  • Ian Simser

    The horrors of combat are not left on the battlefield, a hug from Mom and Dad when we come home from hell do not erase our pain and suffering. Current news reports of heroic SEALS, or GREEN BERETS, do not tell the true story, their deaths are not made public unless politically advantageous. Your psyche can be killed, while your mind and body are left to implode. As a young survivor of a gunshot inflicted suicide attempt, I applaud you and your effort to help those who feel they have only the choice of death while life is there and willing to provide a safe surround

    • cheryl

      I am so glad you are STILL here – and I thank you for these words and your service.

  • Peggy

    Agree with your comment, Cheryl. Blessings to the Softich family. Peace to Noah. Heartfelt thanks to our military.

  • Nancy Gertner

    Thank you for this story. The play “Return to Honor” was written to address the re-integration issues including depression and post combat stress. It is being staged by CLIMB Theatre of Inver Grove Heights with 19 MInnesota performances this year. Funding is provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, local sponsoring libraries, and the Wells Fargo Foundation of Minnesota.

    The performance tonight is at Roosevelt Hall in Barrett, MN, with Elbow Lake MN library as one of the hosts.

  • betty wood

    my heart goes out to you. I have a 23 year old grandson I cant imagine him gone. my husband and I will think of and pray for you often.

  • marie

    Noah is very handsome.
    My prayers are with you.
    Thank you on behalf of all our sons/daughters/soldiers. I applaud you for your hard work, stregth and efforts.

  • SG

    A friend of mine who served in Iraq the first time we went in went back to school to become a therapist when she came back, specifically to help her fellow soldiers who needed help.

    I may not always agree with what the military does but will always stand behind our soldiers. The don’t get to choose where they go and what they do. They put their lives on the line every day. The very least we owe them is our support and help when they return home.

    Once they return home, it seems too often that the military turns their back with the attitude of “you’re someone else’s problem to deal with now.” Is this really how it should be? Send them home to just fend for themselves? No. This isn’t something that would be tolerated in the private sector, is it? You broke them, you fix them.

  • Army wife

    My husband finally went to get help for PTSD after I took steps toward divorce. The Army psychologist questioned the validity of his PTSD struggles during the intake. He was asked if he was sure he wasn’t just trying to get extra money from the Army for his retirement by claiming PTSD. And we wonder why our guys don’t try to seek help more often?!?

  • Cheryl - Noah's mom

    So many of our Soldiers seek help and they don’t get it, or slip through the cracks in the system. MANY soldiders seek help while enlisted just to be told to “man up” and go to your room and clean your rifle – this happened to a young man and he went to his room, but he didn’t clean the gun – he did use it on himself, though. Our soldiers do so much for us, and I don’t understand why we don’t do more for them, but I will keep trying to make a difference until the day I die.

  • SSG Price- friend of Noah.

    Cheryl, it’s been a long journey for us all. I remember Noah, James and all the other brothers that had fallen, but as my tattoo says I will not forget. I too suffered through allot when I returned home. I just suffered in silence. My life now is allot better thanks to a sweet wonderful woman and my immediate family. You’re right. The Army didn’t treat us for long term mental illnesses as they should have. Shame on them. They lost allot of really wonderful people who would have carried the torch for generations to come. Hector posted a picture of Noah “doobie” pierce awhile ago on facebook. I often look at those pictures and think of all the good times and times in hell

  • Kimberly Moritz

    I loved it sweetie you had me in tears i’m glad your sticking with it and letting people know i love you:)

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