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Gold Star Father John Scripsick Remembers His Son Killed in Iraq

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The Obama administration is mulling plans to delay withdrawing troops from urban areas by July 1st if renewed violence continues to grow. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement during a surprise visit to Iraq this weekend. Troops will now likely remain in Mosul and Baghdad after the deadline. Clinton’s comments come as over 155 Iraqis have died in recent days in a series of suicide attacks. Friday’s killing of more than sixty people at a Shiite shrine in Baghdad was Iraq’s deadliest bombing since last June. We speak to John Scripsick, an Oklahoma farmer, whose son Bryan was killed on September 6, 2007, while serving in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Obama administration mulling plans to delay withdrawing troops from urban areas by July 1st, if renewed violence continues to grow. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement during a surprise visit to Iraq this weekend. Troops will now likely remain in Mosul and Baghdad after the deadline. Clinton’s comments come as over 155 Iraqis have died in recent days in a series of suicide attacks. Friday’s killing of more than sixty people at a Shiite shrine in Baghdad was Iraq’s deadliest bombing since last June.

As the Obama administration plans to maintain the occupation of Iraqi towns, the US military is grappling with a record number of soldier suicides. At least thirteen soldiers took their lives last month. That’s down from twenty-four military suicides in January and eighteen in February, but still in line with the most number of suicides since record keeping began. As many as 143 soldiers reportedly took their own lives last year.

Well, I’m joined now by a Gold Star father whose son died in Iraq. Bryan Scripsick died in a suicide bombing in Anbar province on September 6, 2007. He was just three weeks shy of returning home. Since then, his father John Scripsick has become a leading opponent of the Iraq war here in Oklahoma. He joins us here in Lawton.

In a few minutes, we will talk with Emma Prophet. She works at the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office and is a member of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators. She has closely followed the number of soldier suicides.

John, let’s begin with you. First of all, condolences on the death of your son.


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us where he died.

JOHN SCRIPSICK: North of Baghdad about twenty miles. Albu Hyatt is the name of the town.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did he die?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: It was at a checkpoint. There was two Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint, and he was in a Humvee about a half a block from the checkpoint. And the second vehicle in line at the checkpoint pulled out of line, drove past the Iraqi soldiers, and apparently they shot, but missed, and then went straight at — there was a group of Marines working behind my son, and I guess that’s where he was headed. So my son and three others died in stopping the suicide bomber.

AMY GOODMAN: How long had he been in Iraq?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: He got there in March, and this was September. So he was right at the end of the tour.

AMY GOODMAN: When did he join the military?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Right out of high school in 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were your thoughts about him joining the military?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: I was totally against it.


JOHN SCRIPSICK: I did not — I had a bad feeling about George Bush and this war. I watched the interview with him and Pope John Paul, that he pleaded with him not to go to Iraq. And I remember Hans Blix, the UN inspector, said he was not finding anything in Iraq, and he pleaded with — he just needed some more time to keep looking, but he was not finding any weapons of mass destruction. But Bush ordered him and all the unit inspectors out and said that he was going to war. And I also had followed the 9/11 attack. Most of those were from Saudi Arabia and I think a couple from Yemen, not a one from Iraq. Nobody from Iraq has ever hurt — or came over to America and hurt us, so I could not see why we were going into Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did your son say when you talked with him about that?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Well, when he joined, it was supposedly “mission accomplished.” And I thought, well, he might get in between two wars. The recruiter became pretty much his best friend. He was on the phone to him just about every night. And I had — was trying to talk him out of it, and he said, “Dad,” he says, “I’m a leader.” He says, “A lot of people are followers, but I’m a leader.” And I said that “They won’t let you lead.” And he says, “Yeah, they will. You know, if you have common sense and do things right, they will let you lead.” So I could not — I couldn’t outtalk the recruiter on him joining. So I was hoping he would be in between two wars with “mission accomplished,” but it didn’t turn out to be that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was the recruiter? How did he reach your son? And what high school did he go to?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Pauls Valley High School. He had a desk in the school.

AMY GOODMAN: He had a desk in the school?



JOHN SCRIPSICK: I think in the hallway.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s how your son came to know him.


AMY GOODMAN: Were they —- did they become friends?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Yeah, until Bryan got out of boot camp, and then he wouldn’t even return Bryan’s phone calls.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was Bryan calling him then?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Well, he was proud of what he’d done. You know, he was proud to join. He was proud to graduate from boot camp. And I remember on the way home, he was saying, you know, as soon as he gets home, he’s going to call the recruiter. And I heard him call him a couple of times and leave a message, and a couple days later, I asked, “Did he ever call you back?” And he said, “No.” That’s when I think he really realized that he might have got took.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you weren’t the only one in the family encouraging Bryan not to go.

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Oh, no, we were all encouraging him not to go.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was encouraging him, in your family, not to go?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Not to go? Well, his brother and my wife and I, we were all discouraging him from joining.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a number of priests in your family?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Yeah. Mom has three brothers that were priests. So they were up in Kansas. Yeah, when I was growing up, we were in church about every time the doors were open. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: So these are Bryan’s uncles.


AMY GOODMAN: They were telling him not to go?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: They didn’t really talk to Bryan about that.

AMY GOODMAN: But their private feelings?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Oh, they’re against the war. No, they can’t see how we’re doing any good there.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you do here in Oklahoma?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: I farm and ranch.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have other children?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: One. Yeah, Bryan had an older brother.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he serve in the military?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: No, no. No, Bryan is the first one out of our family that has served. I missed Vietnam by just a little bit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Scripsick. We’re here in Lawton, Oklahoma. We’re at Cameron University. And we’re going to come back to continue with John and to talk with an investigator for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office. We’re going to speak with Emma Prophet about soldier suicides. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Flaming Lips, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. This is a headline that’s just breaking from “Rock and Roll Daily,” Rolling Stone Magazine, about this song. Oklahoma will finally name the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” the official state rock and roll song at a ceremony tomorrow afternoon in the psych-rock group’s home state, Oklahoma, where Governor Brad Henry will sign an executive order confirming the selection. This follows a controversial few days for the band. The Oklahoma House of Representatives sought to overrule the Senate’s unanimous vote when the group’s Michael Ivins showed up at the Capitol last month wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the imagery of a sickle and hammer. Lips frontman Wayne Coyne insists the whole thing was blown out of proportion. Ivins didn’t have any subversive intentions, said the “Rock and Roll Daily” from Rolling Stone. That’s the music.

We’re here in Oklahoma, broadcasting from Cameron University. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our Community Voices, Community Media tour. And we’re joined by John Scripsick, lost his son in Iraq, and Emma Prophet. She is an investigator with the Board of Medicolegal Investigators, with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.

The number of suicides, Emma, talk about it.

EMMA PROPHET: There was a revealing article here, that I think actually got off of National Public Radio, that the first two months to three months of this year, there were more people that are active duty that committed suicide than there were killed in action. And that’s the first time that that’s ever happened. And it’s happening when they’re overseas, and it’s happening when they come home.

And it is an issue that has been pervasive with all wars. The effects of the trauma that they go through mentally is very profound, and there really isn’t anything set up that is pervasive enough to allow them to recover, that you may go see a counselor if you want to, but there’s no real program. They are starting to, I think, have groups to get together and talk it out, but also that can have an effect on your career, if you are known to go to those kinds of meetings, I think, at least from what I’ve heard talking —-

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

EMMA PROPHET: If you’re active duty, and you have to go get psychiatric care, that doesn’t look well on your record. And so, that can have a stigma.

But from my experience -— I’ve been doing this work for twenty-one years, and I’ve worked in New Mexico, in Dallas County and various areas of Oklahoma — a lot of what I see is people who have made it out a certain number of years, that are having severe problems with addictions of alcohol and narcotic drugs, that don’t get any help. Some of them do seek recovery on their own, but there’s no real plan set up for them once they’re back home over a period of time. And I do believe that some of these guys came home and were able to function for a while, but the toxic effect lingers and builds up. And over time, the only way to deal with it is through self-medication.

And when I worked in Dallas County, which has a pretty good — at least at that time; I don’t know what it is now — they had a pretty good size homeless population. And probably 85 to 90 percent of the homeless that we would get that had died were on VA benefits, so we knew that they had been in some kind of military action at some point in time. And that speaks volumes to how they slide through the cracks and are not being taken care of.

AMY GOODMAN: And you, as an investigator for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, what does that mean? What do you investigate?

EMMA PROPHET: I’m where the rubber meets the road on death investigation. I’m the one that responds to the death scene. I’m the one that does the collection of criminal, medical, personal information, and doing scene — crime scene work, photographing, taking samples, doing partial autopsies, and also notification of next of kin.

AMY GOODMAN: And the suicides that you’ve dealt with — we’re right here in Lawton, I mean, massive military base here, Fort Sill.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what you have faced in the last, even, few months?

EMMA PROPHET: Well, we’ve had one suicide of an active-duty officer that I have worked. Now, I’m not sure what my partner in this area has worked, but I know that I worked one in February, and he had been back from Iraq for about a year. And, in fact, his commanding officer who found him, when we were talking to him, was like, “This is the last guy I would have thought this would have happened to.” And so, he obviously — that is a concern. He’s conscious of that with his staff. But for whatever reason, the pain that this man was going through was significant enough that he took his own life. And —-

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the military is dealing with this adequately, overall?

EMMA PROPHET: I’m not really seeing them dealing with it adequately. You have to be proactive. You can’t wait for the guy to go in, because he’s going to be afraid of looking weak. And the whole military -— it doesn’t matter what branch you’re in — is to suck it up and go do what you’ve got to do. And that does not go well with dealing with psychological trauma.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, John, back to you. Having lost your son Bryan, the feeling of people here in Oklahoma, people you talk to, with your resistance to, your speaking out against the war?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: Most of my neighbors agree with me. They think this war is just for money. There’s a few people at the top making a lot of money, and then the poor people of Iraq are the ones suffering, and the families here that has lost somebody are the ones suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the feeling the same about both Iraq and Afghanistan?

JOHN SCRIPSICK: I’m not sure about Afghanistan. I did talk to one of Bryan’s friends that was there, and I’ve talk to the troops a lot about the difference in the culture there compared to us. He seemed like a smart kid. He said that he didn’t think bullets would solve anything, but maybe knowledge or education would.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank both of you for being with us. John Scripsick lost his son Bryan in Iraq. He’s speaking out against the war. And Emma Prophet is an investigator with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.

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