The Few, The Proud, The Shattered

Tina Richards' son returned, suicidal, from Iraq battlefields. Now, the Missouri woman is waging her own war in Congress.

Back home in California, Tina Richards is devastated. "Every day he was in Iraq I relived signing that (enlistment) contract," she says.

In October 2003 Cloy returns, as promised, to California. His mother has rented a place in Oceanside, near Pendleton, so Cloy and his friends can unwind during their leave.

The vacation, though, is cut short when Tina Richards learns that her closest friend — "Aunt Annie" as Cloy knew her — is critically ill. The Richardses drive to Oregon to be with Annie, but she dies just a few hours after they arrive. Tina Richards expects her son to comfort her, but instead he leaves the hospital without a word and heads back to California.

Tina Richards
Charles Steck
Tina Richards
Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is one of numerous political players whose attention Tina Richards has captured.
Charles Steck
Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is one of numerous political players whose attention Tina Richards has captured.

Says Cloy: "I couldn't handle coming home and the first thing I have to deal with is death."

Cloy refuses to answer his mother's calls over the following days, so she drives all the way to Oceanside to confront him in person. He responds by slamming the door in her face. "He wanted nothing to do with us, absolutely nothing," Richards recalls. "I didn't see him until Christmas, when he came home to tell me he was being deployed again."

Richards knows Cloy is in no condition to return to Iraq. Mentally, he's a mess.

"I told him we could sell the house and move to Canada," says Richards. "I told him I'd buy two baseball bats and break both his legs. He would heal — just not in time to go back to war." But Cloy will hear none of it. He tells his mother his first duty is to the Marine Corps.

The Richards family spends the evening of February 2, 2004, at Medieval Times, a Southern California theatrical restaurant that they'd long wanted to visit. The following morning, on his mother's 41st birthday, Cloy reports for duty to begin his second tour.

Several weeks later Cloy calls home from his new base in Fallujah. It is about to become the worst place to be stationed in Iraq. At the end of March, four American contractors in Fallujah are decapitated, their bodies burned and strung from a bridge. Graffiti all across the city proclaims it a "graveyard for Americans."

For Cloy's unit, the month of April, 2004 marks another period of chaos and sleep deprivation, akin to the initial invasion, as the U.S. military tries unsuccessfully to capture Fallujah. The Marines not only bombard the city with cannons, but are also responsible for securing some of its borders.

"We got attacked within twenty seconds of entering the edge of the city," recalls Cloy. "We were trying to set up an outpost to operate from, to keep our weapons and stuff, and as soon as we got there people were shooting at us from the hospital across the street."

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians in the months after the Battle of Fallujah beg the military for compensation. Cloy works security for the Marine liaisons paying out the claims. Day after day he listens to the Iraqis weep over lost limbs and dead relatives — tales he will replay in his dreams after he leaves the battlefield.

On August 15, 2004, Cloy's friend, 24-year-old Pfc. Geoffrey Perez does Cloy a favor, relieving him at a checkpoint so he can get a few hours of sleep. An hour into his slumber Cloy hears a huge "boom" — a car bomb exploding at the checkpoint. Perez is dead.

Tina Richards, meanwhile, has no idea what her son is going through. In his weekly calls he only wants to discuss life back home. This second tour is much worse than his first. She is afraid every time the doorbell rings. She makes her daughter answer the phone. She mixes anxiety drugs.

"I was nuts, I was overmedicated, but I couldn't get out of bed. All I could do was watch the news," she says.

In the spring of 2004 Tina Richards spends a week in the hospital on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After recovering, she begins to stay up late at night writing repeated letters to her senators and congressmen, pleading with them to end the war. A lifelong Democrat, she starts stumping for presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Finally, just before the November 2004 elections, Cloy comes home. "First I looked him over, to see that he was in one piece, and then I held him," his mother says.

Cloy has a constant ringing in his ears. Otherwise, he seems OK.

The day after his homecoming Cloy discovers that his fiancée has been cheating on him. Cloy had lent the guy — a fellow Marine — the couch in the couple's apartment while he was in Iraq. He goes into a tirade and starts swinging his fists. His fiancée proceeds to throw him out of the house. Says Cloy, "She thought I was going to kill her, or kill him, and she was probably right."

Homeless and heartbroken, Cloy takes to the bottle. "Rum, scotch, tequila, vodka, beer — lots of beer — and malt liquor. I pretty much stayed drunk twenty-four seven — at work, before work, after work. I got pretty good at staying juiced at work without getting caught," he says. "Ecstasy, coke and weed were everywhere. Everybody was trying to find a way to deal with things. We were Alpha battery, and we became known as Alpha Tap-a-Keg-a."

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