FORT MILL — Editor’s note: The following story is about a veteran’s deployment to Afghanistan. Although there is no graphic language, it may be disturbing for some. Parents are advised to use discretion before allowing children to read this story.
There’s a big difference between saying goodbye and saying goodbye forever.
One former Marine can say he has become accustomed to doing both. Francis Hegel, 26, who joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Fort Mill High School, served his country for four years, including a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.
“First off, when I was in-country, I never saw anyone I was close to die, thank God,” Hegel said.
“I’m not really sure how I dealt with finding out about guys I knew that died. It still is just the saddest feeling, and it really puts things into perspective as far as what was really worth that person’s life, especially when you think of their families and kids.”
The former lance corporal knows of soldiers and Marines who lost limbs and lives to improvised explosive devices, which he considers the No. 1 killer of American service members in the global war on terror. But the casualties don’t stop when service members return home, he said.
“I can think of four off the top of my head that have committed suicide,” Hegel said. “One of them was one of my really close buddies. That one really tore me up.”
The veteran said he gets depressed if he thinks about it too much. He went through so many experiences with his “close buddies,” and it upsets him to think they died for people he calls “ungrateful.”
He said he has a dim view of the Afghans and he feels frustrated Americans have died and continue to die in a country he doesn’t think will be much different when U.S. forces withdraw. In 2001, then President George W. Bush, with the near unanimous support of Congress, ordered U.S. forces to Afghanistan to route the fundamentalist Taliban regime that harbored Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaida, the terror group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011, by a U.S. Navy SEAL team at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“The Afghan people didn’t give a (expletive deleted) when we were there,” Hegel said. “They live a certain way, they abuse and cover their women, use them for children like cattle; the men have sex with the little boys for fun. No amount of ‘freedom’ is going to make them change,” Hegel said.
Hegel’s been home for four years and said it took him a while to become settled. One reason, he said, was the Great Recession that made jobs scarce. Hegel didn’t seek counseling, although in retrospect “I think I probably could have used some right after (his friend’s suicide), but I’m OK now.”
Eventually though, he was able to find a groove.
“I've worked a bunch of different jobs while I floated around for about a year or so. I’ve been working at Lowe’s for about two years now. (It’s a) good place and I just got full-time,” he said.
As Memorial Day approaches, a holiday to remember those who have died while serving in the armed forces, Hegel has one request.
“As far as people who died in combat, if you want to honor them, remember and honor that they were willing to sacrifice for the greater good on a level most can’t comprehend, then demand to see what the hell was worth them not living the rest of their lives for, not getting to raise their kids (or) influence their families,” he said. “As for my friend who killed himself, there is nothing to do but hang on to the good memories.”