Thursday, December 24, 2009

Major Egan... why'd you do it? (Originally posted 24 Dec 08)

I originally posted this a year ago today (24 Dec). And it bears repeating.

This story was in the paper... although, unfortunately, not on the Columbian web.

It is the story of a retired Army Major, one Thomas Egan; a veteran of 2 years on the Korean DMZ, a Master's graduate of the University of Oregon; a retired Oregon Army National Guard officer.

He was found dead, apparently frozen to death, next to a bottle of booze, in Eugene, Oregon within the past few days.

Unfortunately, the story speaks for itself. Sometimes, the desire to destroy one's self can overwhelm all other instincts.

I never knew you, Major, but we served together at the same time. I have no idea what happened to you, but I wish I did... and I wish it could have been fixed.

Tomorrow is Christmas. If you know someone who needs help, take the time and the effort to try and get that help to them. Major Egan had help available, but made a bad choice when it came to using it.

As I look outside at the foot of snow, I ask myself: "how many Major Egans are there?" Is there more that could have been done?

Probably not.

But I wish there had been.

Good bye, Major. From all accounts, you served us honorably and well. I never met you, but I won't forget you.

I could have been you.

Soldier’s death resonates
Homeless veteran froze to death though services were available

(Eugene) Register-Guard

EUGENE, Ore — Thomas Egan was a scholar and a decorated soldier. He was also a homeless alcoholic whose life ended last week when he froze to death in Eugene during an unusually long and harsh cold snap.

His body was found covered in snow near the corner of West First Avenue and Blair Boulevard, a bottle of liquor by his side.

News of the demise of the longtime Eugene resident troubled many local veterans — especially those who knew that with some effort and some help, the man they called Major Egan could have had a roof over his head.

“The whole National Guard community is taking this very hard,” said Bud Dickey, a vocational rehabilitation coordinator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ community reintegration service center in Eugene.

“It’s very disturbing for all of us, because Major Egan was retired and could have been drawing his (veterans’) benefits,” Dickey said. “He had options that he did not access.”

Egan collected monthly Social Security checks, but the amount was a pittance compared with the payments he was entitled to as a retired military veteran. When he turned 60 in July, Egan became eligible to receive $909 each month in National Guard retirement income, Dickey said.

Egan also could have applied for a separate pension check based on unemployability. “That would have gotten him an apartment if he wanted one,” said Jay Rea, a Springfield resident who served under Egan in the National Guard in the late 1980s. “I shed a tear when I heard he died,” Rea said. “It breaks my heart because he was the friendliest guy, and so smart.” A New York native, Egan joined the Army in 1971 after graduating from Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Conn., with a bachelor’s degree in history.

He was stationed at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea for two years, and was reassigned to the Oregon Army National Guard in 1977.

Earned master’s degree
Egan earned his master’s degree from the University of Oregon in 1983, and ultimately attained the rank of major with the National Guard.

He retired honorably in 1991, following a 20-year military career during which he was awarded several service medals and ribbons.

Dickey said Egan’s desire to drink made him ineligible for VA housing programs that require sober living.

Egan had declined to enroll in substance abuse treatment programs offered through the veterans agency, Dickey said.

According to those who knew him, Egan worked sporadically. He did some landscaping, and most years helped deliver telephone books.

Sometimes, he found an apartment to stay in for a while. At other times, he lived on the streets. In August, Egan spent two weeks at the Eugene Mission — which is less than one block from the spot where a passer-by discovered his body last week.

Mission officials said Egan never caused any trouble there, and could have stayed any time. Dickey said Egan has no relatives in Oregon, and tracking down members of his extended family on the East Coast has been challenging.

Dickey, who served five years with Egan in the National Guard, is helping to direct an effort to have Egan interred at the Roseburg National Cemetery.

“He will be buried as a veteran in a veterans’ cemetery,” Dickey said. “He was a good soldier, and we’re going to get him the burial he’s due.”


LewWaters said...

It's always sad when we lose one so gifted as Maj. Egan. We will never know what demons possessed him or why he wouldn't accept help.

Rest in Peace, Major Egan, until we meet in Fiddlers Green, Sir.

K.J. Hinton said...

I wish something could have been done... I still get a little emotional about this when I read it.

This should not have been the outcome. And I can only hope something like this doesn't ever happen again.

But we both know it will.

LewWaters said...

Sadly, you're right.

None of us know what demons lurk in others.

Last year, a man from one of my sister units in Viet Nam, I never met, but associated with online through the unit website, walked into a hospital emergency room, entered a rest room and shot himself.

He posted a good bye on the website, but no one could get to him back there in time.

His particular demon we have an inkling into, though. He was pulled off of the helicopter he crewed to process out to go home. The next flight it was shot down and all on board died.

He felt he should have been on board instead of the new crew chief.

No fault of his and we thought we had dealt with his demon, online and those that lived somewhat nearby and associated with him personally.

Personally, I think the negative many of us received back then contributes a lot. We cannot change that, but we all must do better in welcoming back today's heroes and identifying those carrying deep scars, reach out to them and help them heal, when we can.

Gr8mochas said...

Like I've said so many times...alcohol is a good anesthetic and when we run from the pain into a bottle, it changes the human mind in ways we just can't comprehend. Losing gifted and honored individuals such as Maj. Egan is and always will be a special kind of tragedy.

As human beings, I don't believe that we were ever made to face the horrors of war and those who volunteer to do so hold a very special place in my heart. There is not enough that we can do for them to express even a portion of the gratitude that they deserve. When you marry the pain of war with the destructive properties of alcohol, it becomes a tragedy waiting to happen...especially if the individual isn't in a position to accept, want or hang on to help when it is offered.

I have to believe that the Lord I believe in met this man in that place between life and death, and was able to bring him the peace he so desperately needed at the time he needed it most.