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.

Only a week after getting the good news, Cloy receives a disquieting phone call from a Marine major. The Corps is beginning an investigation into Richards and two friends from IVAW over a street-theater event that the Marines conducted in D.C. on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion — while in uniform.

According to Cloy, the major insinuates that he could lose his newly acquired disability benefits if he continues to participate in "political" activities while in uniform. "What killed me was, in every speech I give I always make sure to say that the Marine Corps is a great institution," Cloy complains. "I love the Marine Corps, and I have no problems with it at all. I'm just disgruntled with the way the military treats us when we get home from war."

Cloy calls his mother in tears to relay the latest development of his post-war drama. Tina Richards is busy conducting a sit-in in Speaker Pelosi's office. A few weeks later, Richards calls for a "Summer Swarm on Congress," asking that 10,000 citizens come to Washington to help her lobby.

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.

By July only 300 volunteers have come forward. Says Richards, "I'm disappointed, but what can you expect when only 1.6 percent of our country is affected by the war?" Nonetheless, the more word spreads of Richards' activities, the more calls she gets from military families seeking assistance.

"I remember the day Cloy called to tell me the news that he'd gotten his benefits and he wasn't being deployed," says Richards while parking her car a few blocks from Capitol Hill last month. "I was ecstatic for two minutes, until he said: 'But Mom, there are a lot of Marines who got orders to go back. There's no one fighting for them.'

"I was consumed with guilt, the same guilt that I'd feel when I'd learn that a soldier had died in Iraq, and it wasn't Cloy. I'd be ecstatic, you know, and then all of a sudden, I'd feel so guilty knowing that another mother had gotten the news that it was her son who was killed.

"How can you stop and celebrate something like that? I decided that I would go home when the war is over. I can't celebrate until every mother's son and every mother's daughter is back."

Cloy, for his part, is getting on with his life. He's taking classes towards earning a B.A. at Southwest Baptist University and driving a forklift to earn some extra cash. He's cut back on drinking and continues to write. Perhaps the best sign of progress: He has put his bimonthly sessions with a therapist on hold. Says Cloy, "If I need to call him I can, and if I need to see him, that's OK."

As for the Marine Corps, it eventually decides to call off its investigation of Cloy, but only if he agrees to stick to uniform regulations. Afraid of losing his disability and G.I. Bill money, Cloy says, "I decided I'm just going to fade into the black."

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