Bravely Speaking Out

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

Silent Guilt No More

Today’s story is a more difficult one. When we talk of the “hope of recovery,” we are, of course, talking about recovery from something, and that something is often painful beyond words. The Royal Marine who bravely opened up his heart and mind to the British tabloid, The Mirror, certainly does have hope for further recovery, but as he struggles to reel words back into his pain, he reminds us all of the complications that War brings, even to those whom we would all call “heroic.”  The article is “War Hero Is Left Suicidal and Depressed Due to ‘Guilt’ Over Military Cross Recognition.”

Interesting how the headline writer at The Mirror felt compelled to add quotation marks around the word hero, as if somehow, what, to comfort the rest of us that we know what real heroism and undeserved guilt really are? Perhaps, perhaps not.

For Corporal Richard Withers of the Corps of Royal Marines, in Her Majesty’s Naval Service, however, guilt is guilt, potentially deadly, whether or not undeserved.

Yes, you and I can see and say what a brave man Corporal Withers is, based not only on his willingness to man his post and charge through heavy Taliban fire in 2007, but perhaps just as much on his willingness, even while still on active duty, to reveal to the British nation—and thereby the world—that he struggles daily with thoughts of unworthiness and suicide, constantly recalling all the men who did not survive, wondering over and over what he might have done differently to have permitted one, two, all of them their own chances to live life after War.

Yes, “survivor guilt” is the technical name for this “condition.” Yet there is nothing technical or clinical about his suffering. Even the Military Cross, awarded by Her Majesty for “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land to all members, of any rank in Our Armed Forces” can only do so much to allay the burden that all of us must eventually bear and that those touched by War must bear with a vengeance: grief over the loss of those we dearly love.

Together, Cpl. Withers and The Mirror are reminding all of us that “heroism” and “suffering” are not mutually exclusive terms. And they are also reminding us that neither are “heroism” and “journeying toward recovery.”  The good Corporal himself acknowledges that, in fact, by his finally being able to speak openly about his suffering with providers associated with the Royal Navy, with the world, with himself, he is finding that words have a “heroism” of their own, words spoken to connect, not to distance, words spoken to re-ignite a fire for missions and connections that are still worth looking for, striving for, living for.

You have what it takes, Corporal Withers. For your service, both in times of War and now in times of bravely living life afterwards, thank you.

Keep going, sir. For the men you loved. For your son, Harley. For yourself. For us all.

Until tomorrow, be well,


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