A Soldier's Eye on War
July 5, 2010 Orrin Gorman McClellan is among the war casualties that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has just begun to track — young men and women who served in the post-9/11 military, and killed themselves after struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and other war wounds.
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES Perry McClellan and Judith Gorman put a flagpole in front of their home to commemorate their son's life and service. A talented artist, he helped his parents create a new veterans center on Whidbey Island before taking his life in May.
Orrin Gorman McClellan grew up among the alder and cedar that cover his family's 11-acre homestead on Whidbey Island. He relished painting, music and acting, playing the star role of Toad in a local production of "The Wind in the Willows."
McClellan seemed an unlikely Army recruit. But in the post-9/11 world, he responded to talk of honor, service and camaraderie. After graduating from high school, without informing his parents, McClellan signed up for three years of active duty.
He served in Afghanistan, where he lost friends to enemy bullets, picked up the body parts of blown-up soldiers and wrestled with the emotions unleashed by combat missions.
"Have you ever felt that each word you say brings you further away from explaining yourself," he wrote in an April 30, 2005, poem in a computer journal. "Everything you create puts a sour taste in your mouth and every action you take burns you with shame."
In the fall of 2006, McClellan left the Army and came back to his Western Washington island and a strong support network eager to help him rebuild his life. But family and friends were not enough to save him.
This year, on May 18, McClellan took his life with a handgun.
"He never really came all the way home," said his mother, Judith Gorman, a social worker skilled in counseling traumatized people. "If some good can come out of this, I would like communities to be able to recognize that we all have to be able to bear some of the burden. We can't just expect veterans to heal ...
"We have to listen to their stories. Deep listening."
In July of 2005, near the end of his time in Afghanistan, McClellan wrote a bitter ode to military recruiters:
"take your pleasantries
your generalizations, good intentions,
sweet words, and half truths,
put them in a box.
drape a flag over it.
and bury it with the rest of the dead." Continued