Saturday, October 23, 2010

Counting US Non-combat Deaths

Our website, Home of the Brave, at includes over 1,150 listings of military personnel killed from causes other than by enemy induced deaths in battle.  We have attempted to place each of these deaths into one of the following categories: 
·        Accident, including vehicle, helicopter, electrocution, etc.
·        Friendly Fire
·        Homicide
·        Natural causes, including illness, heat stroke, etc.
·        Self-inflicted, including suicide and presumed suicide
·        Under investigation
·        Generic “non-combat cause”
·        Non-hostile gunshot wound; non-combat weapons discharge
·        Overdose
There are many problems involved in creating and keeping such a list accurately.  The majority of the listings come from the official Department of Defense death announcements which come out shortly after the deaths occur.  We rely, initially, on the cause of death listed in these announcements as “non-combat related” or some similar designation.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these official announcements leave the cause as the generic “non-combat cause” and most are also stated to be “Under investigation.”  The DoD does not officially update their announcements once these investigations are completed, so it is a large task to go back to each listing looking for updates in the press in order to place them into a proper category.  I’ve spent a lot of time doing this, slowly updating causes of death and trying to make sure the sources are accurate.  In the past year or so, every single Marine death is announced as “died during combat operations”, which obviously skirts the cause of death.
I am quite aware that these listings are not all inclusive.  I often come across media reports of the deaths of active duty military personnel on domestic military bases or off-base which are carried only in the local media outlets.  These are added to the listings as I come across them.  Occasionally, there are wonderful people who email me listings to add or corrections of the existing lists.
Sometimes, like right now, I read books which enlighten me with historical accounts of battles in which long lists of friendly fire deaths are revealed.  I am reading Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer, a book ostensibly about Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire”, but packed with well-researched and documented accounts of the first days of the Iraq invasion.   I do not know why I have not been made aware of the large number of total screw ups from the day on which Jessica Lynch’s convoy mistakenly took a wrong turn to Nasiriyah prior to the first day of battle on March 23, 2003, when 29 Marines and other military personnel were killed – the majority by the horribly named, “friendly fire.” ( It would seem that we Americans are so self-reliant that we don’t need no stinkin’ enemy – we are perfectly capable of killing our own.)
The relationship of this knowledge with the problem of counting has directly to do with the misinformation fed to the media by our own government.  Initial reports of these battles, even a year later when the complete investigation was done, assigned none of the deaths to friendly fire, and yet troops on the ground were actually bombed by US planes and helicopters.  The fact that those killed were engaged in what they thought was battle with the enemy adds to the confusion in categorization.  Typically, both cockpit videotapes were mysteriously “lost” shortly after they were reviewed by officials.
An alternate story, which can still be found on some entries at the Washington Post site listing casualties is “Ambushed in Nasiriyah by Iraqi soldiers who pretended to surrender, then opened fire when the Marines approached.”  This, also, has been proven to be a fabrication.  These soldiers were also most likely killed by friendly fire.  A relatively small number of US Marines were actually killed by Iraqis on March 23, 2003.
I would remind the reader of the preposterous stories fed to the press about the Jessica Lynch “rescue” from an Iraqi hospital where she was reported to have been not only shot while shooting back, but also raped and tortured.  By now, all should be aware that this was a total fabrication.  Her own testimony in one of the Tillman hearings confirms that her weapon was jammed and that she did not fire a single round.  She was well treated in an Iraqi hospital and there was little resistance when US troops came for her.  Nevertheless, video was produced which would lead one to believe that this was a dangerous mission.
Then, there is the cover up of Pat Tillman’s death, with the various politically advantageous tall tales told before the Army was finally forced to admit that he was killed by members of his own platoon.  To this date, his family is still trying to get the whole truth.
The 1994 “friendly fire” attack of a Black Hawk Helicopter flying over Iraq killed Lt. Laura Piper and 25 other people.  Her mother has written a book, A Chain of Events, which exposes the cover up of the incident by the US Air Force.
Since my own son’s death included one of these totally fabricated stories by unnamed Military sources, this pattern of deception by our own government is particularly disturbing to me.
Still, the American public believes what it wants to believe, despite massive evidence proving that we are being lied to on a regular basis about how our military members are killed.
So, I am now confirming the names and causes of death of the military personnel named in Krakauer’s book.  There were also names and descriptions of soldiers killed in non-combat death situations in the book Black Hearts, by Jim Frederick which await confirmation and addition to our lists.  I am likely to come across other sources.
Homicides within the military have only recently begun to be reported publicly.  Suicides, which may in fact be murders staged to look like suicides, are usually not properly investigated, so although families dispute the official cause of death frequently, there is no way of accurately counting suicides vs. homicides in a military setting.
One of the additional problems with keeping this list, is that families are sometimes convinced that a non-combat death is somehow less honorable than a combat death.  I’ve heard people say that they wish their loved one had been killed in combat…  So, some causes of death are purposely not revealed for that reason.
We will probably never know the accurate, comprehensive number of non-combat deaths in the current conflicts, let alone domestically.  Our lists are only an attempt to get an idea of just how many of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen are killed in non-combat incidents while on active duty.  There are others who have begun to investigate similar deaths occurring shortly after discharge from the military services which are coming up with alarming numbers.
Donna Janeczko 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Donna, this is good. I would like to add a comment regarding families or persons who view non-combat deaths differently than combat deaths. As you know we lost two sons one in battle and one who died in his sleep from medications taken for PTSD. We believe that we are Gold Star Parents because of the deaths of BOTH of our sons, not just Robert who was KIA in Afghanistan. Andrew's death was ruled an accidental drug intoxication not a suicide. Whether a person's death was ruled as accidental or suicide should not be looked at any differently. The issues that need to be addressed by the DoD and VA is the treatment of these men and women who have "the hidden wound" called PTSD and TBI. We see no difference in soldiers/marines/airmen/sailors who have died while serving their country...they are all heroes and need to remembered as such. You have my permission to share this any way you like. Thanks.

Stan White, Gold Star Father of
SSG Robert F. White, 1/325 82 ABN, US Army
Cpl Andrew R. White 4th CEB USMC