To die unsung would really bring you down
Although wet eyes would never suit you
Walk through no archetypal suicide
Die young is far too boring these days - “Unsung“, Helmet
With the exception of several administration officials both past and present and every other rabid warhawk in PNAC and the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes, I can’t think of a single American who belongs in Iraq.
And 19 year-old LaVena L. Johnson certainly had no business being there.
If you do even advanced Google and Yahoo searches for LaVena Johnson, who was murdered in Balad, Iraq, a place not notable for either terrorist or insurgent activity, on July 19th, 2005, about half the hits you’ll get were written by fellow Missouri native Philip Barron, aka Shakespeare’s Sister’s Waveflux. I’m getting pissed off more and more seeing Barron going at this virtually alone in asking for real answers that explain this beautiful, intelligent, outgoing and accomplished young lady’s death.
Is it because she wasn’t a safety for the Arizona Cardinals? Was it because she wasn’t male? Or is it because she was black? Yet, these inevitable questions have, of course, already been asked. So let’s ask the questions that the United States Army, who wants to be all it can be except honest and forthcoming, has neither the balls to ask themselves nor answer for her family and the record. And before we can ask these questions, I first have to ensure that my readership knows the basic facts if they don’t already.
On July 19th, 2005, Pfc. LaVena Johnson was found dead in her tent, a single bullet wound to her left temple (she was right-handed). Her nose was broken. One of her lips was battered so badly that a mortician had to reconstruct it. Two of her front teeth were knocked loose. Her shoulder or elbow was dislocated. A trail of blood led from her tent to outside.
A slam dunk, right? You’d think even an Army sawbones half a step ahead of a civilian malpractice suit and the laziest, most jaded and indifferent Army CID officer would rule this a murder, right?
Instead, the Army initially ruled her death a “non combat-related” one as a result of a self-inflicted wound. Not officially a suicide, but a death due to an SIW. When pressed to reopen the case by a St. Louis television news station and Johnson’s parents, the Army then planted its second boot squarely and firmly in Bizarro World and ruled LaVena Johnson’s death a suicide.
And in the act of doing so, they practically begged the Johnson family to hire attorneys to force the Army to reopen the case that they’re now refusing to reopen. Basically, they’re saying, “That’s our ridiculous story and we’re sticking to it.” This, despite the fact that her CO went on record as saying that she was happy, a fact corroborated by her mother who spoke with her on the phone for an hour the day before her death.
The question that’s uppermost in my mind is, did the 5’ 1” LaVena Johnson allegedly shoot herself in the head with an M-16 before or after trying to set her own body on fire, loosening two of her front teeth by mutilating her lip, breaking her nose, dislocating her shoulder and/or elbow, losing the debit card that she’d used just two hours earlier to buy candy, wash her hands of the cordite and leaving a trail of blood before buttonholing back to her tent where she’d finally expired?
Another question I’d like to ask the hack who did the autopsy is who is the Army protecting? To be able to derail an autopsy report on a death surrounded by so many suspicious circumstances just about proves interference at the base command level or even higher. The interference was so successful, in fact, that the physical trauma to her body save for the bullet wound were never even mentioned in the autopsy report.
Dr. John Johnson, LaVena’s father, was in the Army for three years and worked for the government for 28. You’d think they’d give him the truth even if only out of common fucking courtesy to one of their own.
This story by Helen Benedict in Salon ought to be required reading for any girl or any parent about to send off a girl to Iraq, Afghanistan or any place abroad. If you want a possible scenario that may help explain the Army’s stonewalling of the Johnson case, read this paragraph by Benedict:
While commanders of some units are apparently less vigilant about policing rape, others engage in it themselves, a phenomenon known in the military as "command rape." Because the military is hierarchical, and because soldiers are trained to obey and never question their superiors, men of rank can assault their juniors with impunity. In most cases, women soldiers are the juniors, 18 to 20 years old, and are new to the military and war, thus vulnerable to bullying and exploitation.
That’s one possible explanation as to why the Army is trying so hard to keep this under wraps.
You also have to wonder if Johnson’s support unit had in it, however briefly and for whatever reason, independent contractors such as USIG and Blackwater. With tens of millions of dollars in private security contracts at stake, it would also throw up a plausible scenario as to why Johnson’s rape, beating and death are being so militantly covered up.
It could also be that the Army is afraid that, if they admit her death was due to foul play, they’d also have to admit that she was either the victim of a rape or an attempted rape, which may in turn result in a floodgate of investigations that shows how inept the Department of Defense has been at preventing rape and protecting whistleblowers from reprisal.
If you watch the KMOV news segment, her father believes it was to cover up a sexual assault. He knows his daughter had a physical exam to be checked for an STD and that she may’ve named someone, someone with a lot of protect.
Covering up the cause of female soldiers’ deaths in Iraq is, unfortunately, the order of the day. The rapes are so common in Iraq, for instance, that female soldiers refuse liquids at night so they don’t have to walk across the base to the nearest latrine where potential rapists await. As a result, several have died of dehydration. And even before LaVena was violated and murdered, rape in Iraq was already an all too common problem that, for some reason, had to be covered in a local and not a national paper.
LaVena’s death just eight days shy of her 20th birthday would be an excellent counter recruiting commercial as to why you should do everything in your power to keep your daughter from enlisting. The straight A student, who wasn’t ready for college right out of high school, wanted to travel, earn money for college for later. She was seduced by the siren call of a recruiter at Hazelwood High School who told her only what he wanted her to hear, what she wanted to hear. After her funeral, her father went through her drawer and found a recruiting brochure that said, “Earn $25,000 toward college.”
And, as sirens will do, she was doomed even though she was told that it was highly unlikely that she’d get sent to Iraq. In fact, she was sent right out of basic despite having failed her wet fire test in basic.
That’s right. LeVena couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bazooka at point blank range yet was sent into what’s arguably the most dangerous nation on the face of the earth to support what’s arguably the most dangerous army on the face of the earth… to women. Just so some recruiter could inch his way closer to making quota.
Gone now are the pie in the sky promises of college and $25,000 for it. Now, her usefulness at an end, the Army cannot and will not even tell her family the truth about her death. Here’s what they will talk about: When LeKesha Johnson, the youngest of the five Johnson kids and the sole surviving daughter, became a senior, the Army began calling the family. When the Johnsons finally told them that they’d already lost a daughter in Iraq and that no one else would be enlisting, the calls kept coming, anyway. Back then, the Johnsons didn’t know they could opt out and prevent the DoD from using No Child Left Behind to get their contact information. Now they know but only too late.
And if LaKesha Johnson was dumb enough to walk into a Florissant recruiting station, they’d tell her the same fucking lies they told her sister. “Earn $25,000 for college, but first we may need you to run a little errand for us in Iraq. But since you’re female, the odds of you going there are slim (In point of fact, we’ve sent an average of just over 40,000 females a year to the Middle East since 2003, or 160,500, according to Benedict).”
Give us more and more of your dearest flesh. We need warm bodies for the Glorious Surge. And recruiters wonder in their reptilian, olive drab minds why parents and students set up counter recruiting stations.
Waveflux’s LaVena Johnson petition that implores the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to reopen her case isn’t getting enough traction, people. At last count, it’s gotten 1402 signatures and two of them are mine. The military only wants to talk to you and yours when they need IED fodder. Once they’re dead, they’ll lie to you to protect corporate and political interests. Pat Tillman and LaVena Johnson and so many others who’ve died mysteriously have proved that. But they may listen to Congress if enough pressure is put to bear by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
Freshman senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri may be new but new legislators tend to be pretty ingratiating. If you’re from Missouri and reading this, here’s some contact information that you can use to apprise Senator McCaskill of the stonewalling of the LeVena Johnson investigation:
PO Box 300077
St. Louis, Missouri 63130
(314) 918-VOTE (8683)
(314) 918-8696 -- Fax
She’d united with Senator Barack Obama to launch legislation aimed at improving conditions for outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed. My bet would be that she’s also amenable to twisting some arms to reopen this investigation so Dr. Johnson doesn’t have to have his daughter’s corpse exhumed. While you’re at it, send an email directly to Claire’s Senate office using this form.
Plus, Waveflux has some other suggestions as to what you can do. Perhaps part of the reason why LeVena’s death isn’t getting any traction is because people are treating it like a local story, that they cannot and should not get involved if they’re not from Missouri. Like Waveflux says, this is no more a local story than Iraq.
Those lovely, big brown eyes haunt me. Don’t they haunt you, as well? They seem to beg for answers, for justice. When I get too burnt out and depressed to write at times, it’s because of stories like this, stories like Gloria Davis, another African American female in the Army from Missouri shot and killed in Iraq under mysterious circumstances, stories like Jennifer Parcell and Holly McGeogh and so, so many others. They are always God-fearing, altruistic, patriotic, pretty. Exactly the kind of people we ought to be keeping alive and not wasting in Iraq. Exactly the kind of people more worthy of attention and admiration than the tabloid fixtures we see on TV and supermarket magazine racks.
Of course, LeVena Johnson’s not exactly what you’d call unsung. The problem is, all too many people are singing the wrong song.