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.

When the Richards family finally arrives in Salem in July 2005, this following Cloy's two suicide attempts, he refuses to leave the borrowed RV. A few days later he convinces his grandfather to drive him to St. Louis so he can catch a plane to California.

Cloy spends the next nine months bouncing between different friends' couches. Wireless phone companies turn down his job applications. Frustrated and upset, he repeatedly calls his mother in Missouri. "You need to go to the VA," she says.

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.

Richards is hoping Cloy will finally see a therapist. But Cloy can't even schedule an appointment. Showing up at the LA hospital is fruitless — it's too crowded, he tells his mother. He can't even get an operator on the line. Eventually, he gives up altogether.

Cloy flies to Salem for Christmas in 2005. He acts as rash as ever. One night he drinks so heavily that he totals his mother's car rounding a bend at high speed near Lebanon. "I don't know how he lived," Richards says.

In March 2006, Cloy returns to Missouri for a court appearance and decides to settle down, once and for all, in the Ozarks.

Richards, meanwhile, has become a regular reader of liberal blogs and closely follows anti-war groups like St. Louis-based Veterans for Peace. Every Saturday she and a friend host their own midday protest in front of Salem's City Hall. She has even signed on as campaign manager to Veronica Hambacker, the Democrat challenging Republican Jo Ann Emerson for the 8th District U.S. Congressional seat.

Around the same time Cloy moves to Missouri, Richards notices that Iraq Veterans Against the War is planning a march from Mobile to New Orleans to help Hurricane Katrina refugees. It is the third anniversary of the Iraq war. Richards has long been asking Cloy if he is interested in attending anti-war rallies. "No," he replies. This time Cloy says yes.

On his first day in New Orleans, Cloy Richards finds himself sitting in a Port-A-Potty when the following lines come to him:

When will there be peace on earth?

When the earth falls to pieces

When all men are gone and all life ceases

Our glass lives quickly shatter

Though our sons die in Iraq their dreams still matter

Even if they've died to make a politician's pockets fatter

My first instinct is to kill these ignorant bastards faster

'Cause all I see when I sleep

Is my brother's blood being guzzled by a Jeep

So I bury my face and muffle my screams

I'm a grown-ass man I'm the big bad Marine.....

"I had nothing to write on," he says, "so I just started tapping it all into my cell phone."

At home in Salem he puts pen to paper, writing verse about losing pals to drugs after Iraq and about his nightmares. He writes about his survivor's guilt: That hot Iraqi day when you were slayed/Watching my back so I could sleep unafraid I/heard the explosion from where I laid/And instantly I watched the skies go grey/I watched my life just float away/How could things go this way/You were my brother in arms and you took my place.

By Tina Richards' account, the next few months are almost blissful. "He seemed so happy, so relaxed, so much more easygoing, more like his old self," she says. "We'd both stay up late at night, and he would come into my room to read me something he'd written. He'd say, 'Does this sound good?' Or, 'What do you think of this?'"

For the first time Richards begins to learn about her son's experiences in battle. Cloy decides at last to visit the VA for therapy.

In July 2006, at the John Cochran VA Hospital in St. Louis, Cloy starts on the lengthy process of applying for disability for what the Richardses figure is post-traumatic stress disorder. It will be another two or three months (the Richardses haven't kept any records of their visits) before Cloy can get an appointment with a caseworker.

According to Tina Richards, the caseworker tries to discourage her son from reporting what he thinks are PTSD symptoms. Instead, Richards says, the worker characterizes him as having "childhood issues."

"If I hadn't been there with him," she fumes, "I don't think the paperwork would have been submitted at all."

After the first round of appointments, Cloy has to wait another five months for a session with a psychiatrist. In the meantime, both Cloy and Tina become regulars on the anti-war circuit. They go to Camp Casey in Texas for Cindy Sheehan's annual stakeout of President Bush's ranch. Cloy participates in IVAW "Warrior Writers" workshops.

On January 27 this year, Richards attends a peace march in D.C. with a busload of Missourians. She plans to stay an extra day in the capital for sightseeing — that is, until Cloy calls her, frantic. He has gotten notice to report in St. Louis on March 24 for an annual muster of the Individual Ready Reserve.

"Mom, they could send me back," he says.

"Oh, no they won't," Richards replies. "I promise you."

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