The Army vs. Spec. Richmond
Sunday, September 24, 2006
GONZALES, La. -- Eddie Richmond's son got back from the war in June. He wanted nothing in the way of a homecoming, no yellow ribbons tied around trees, none of the piles of boiled crawfish that sent him off.
While other sons came home from Iraq with duffel bags that spilled sand from the desert, 22-year-old Edward Richmond Jr. carried release papers from an Army jail.
Edward had been among the first soldiers to be sent to prison for killing a civilian in the Iraq war, and among the first to walk out of prison. What waited for him was a parole officer in heat-struck Louisiana.
Ascension Parish was the same -- green and mossy lowlands afloat with Whataburgers, Starcuts, daiquiri drive-throughs and gas stations that sell hot shrimp by the pound -- but Edward was different.
He didn't like anyone standing too close. He slept on the floor instead of the bed. When he went through a box the Army had sent home, he found his uniform, infantry badges and ribbons. The vestments of a soldier's life. Edward put all of it in the trash.
His release coincided with a wave of investigations into U.S. soldiers killing civilians in Iraq. After an incident at Haditha, more than a dozen Marines are being questioned in the deaths of as many as two dozen civilians. Some blamed the fog of war or the stress of combat. Others said they only did what they were trained to do.
"War is not a pretty thing," Edward's father often said. "Things happen in a war zone."
The Army had trained his son to kill. Then Edward went to Iraq, and the Army decided he had killed someone the wrong way.
For two years now, his father has asked the Army why his son was prosecuted.
Even after Edward's release from prison, the 52-year-old Richmond's war rages on. He owns an air conditioning and heating business, and as he changed out compressors in the mosquito-rife back yards around Baton Rouge, sweating and heaving, Iraq was with him. He cited page numbers and footnotes from his son's case, like a record needle dropping down mid-song: "In Captain Morgan's statement on the 28th . . . "
Edward was a casualty of something, and so was his father.
In Gonzales, a large American flag hangs outside the Richmond house on two shaded acres. If the family feels any shame or anger, they keep it to themselves.