By Greg Mitchell
Published: September 07, 2007 12:55 PM ET
NEW YORK As often the case, the U.S. military has listed several of the deaths in the past week in Iraq as “non-combat related,” adding, as it always does, that they are “under investigation.”
Major newspapers usually leave it at that. But much smaller papers near where the soldier once lived often obtain details from family members that suggest a likely cause of death, sometimes friendly fire, other times, suicide.
The latter appears to be the case with a Nevada man who died on August 30 – and his family appears angry that he was ordered to the combat zone to begin with.
Army Specialist Travis M. Virgadamo, 19, died in Taji, Iraq, last Thursday. The local paper, the Pahrum Valley Times, reports today, “The soldiers who notified Vergadamo's family about his death reportedly said he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
It quotes his grandmother, Katie O’Brien, saying, “I don't know what happened, and I may never know what happened.”
Then the story adds: “One thing of which she is certain, however, is that Virgadamo was not in any condition to be sent to a war zone, where he transported ammunition.”
Recent reports have noted an upsurge in suicides in Iraq, with the total for the war over 120 at the minimum.O'Brien said he was having psychiatric problems known to the Army when it sent him back into combat.
He had already exhibited “emotional issues” in training, O'Brien said, and was sent to anger management therapy.
“While on his last leave in July, O'Brien said Virgadamo told her he had been seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist while in Baghdad and Kuwait and was put on Prozac,” the story continues.
O’Brien added: "They sent him back even though they knew he was having issues and was not stable and was not military material.”
When he visited her last July, "He was just scared. He'd had some really close calls before he came home and was talking about going AWOL [absent without leave]."
O'Brien said she "threw a fit" when she learned he was on Prozac and told him to ask to have his medication switched when he returned to Iraq.
His mother, Jackie Juliano of Pahrump, and O'Brien "raised Virgadamo together here after his mother and father divorced," the story concluded.
Other local papers have revealed in the past three weeks, among other non-combat fatalities, the death by friendly fire of a Texas soldier, Kamisha Block, and the suicide in California of a returning Iraq vet, John Fish.
Army specialist John Fish III was training at Fort Bliss, Texas, when he missed morning roll call, leading to a search spanning two states. His body was found in the desert, death caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He had joined the Army when he turned 17 and was sent to Iraq as soon as he turned 18.
"Three weeks ago I was hugging a happy loving wonderful son. And now as you can see ... I've got pictures," said his mom Cathy Fish, in a KSBY-TV (California) report.
"He wrote, 'Why them and not me? What makes me so special?' And he felt bad.
He said, 'What was I doing that was so important that I couldn't be there to save all them?'" explained his mother.
"He did express living in pain. He had a lot of turmoil sometimes, and a lot of pain.""He said that he felt responsible for the deaths of the different soldiers that were in Iraq," explained a stepsister in the same report.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday at Camp Roberts.
A memorial fund has been set up to assist the Fish family. You can donate to the John Fish Memorial Fund at any Mid-State Bank.