Yesterday I jauntily created a post, wondering if I should fictionalize my memoir about being a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in order to make it more emotionally compelling. Unfortunately, recent news reminds me that “real life” is compelling enough, without embellishment.
Cadet 1st Class Marc Henning, a native of Crossville, IL, died in the hospital, after being found unconscious in his CS 20 dorm room, according to official Academy news.
Television media speculated that he committed suicide. Certainly, whenever a fit, young person dies, people’s thoughts jump to lurid possibilities: drug abuse, the strangle game, suicide. Sometimes, it might have just been congenital heart failure, although by the time one is a senior, a cadet has had at least two ECGs.
Do not be quick to judge Marc Henning. Medical and law enforcement personnel accused one of my own classmates of faking his own rape and assault during Under Graduate Pilot Training. A year or two later, after a murder investigation, they discovered the actual perpetrator–another of my classmates. Everyone needs to be very careful about leaping to obvious conclusions in this case, as well.
I also remember that the most depressing part of my four years at the Academy was not during the “hard times,” but occurred during the “easy part” of my senior year, after my class had passed most of our military duties on to the Class of 1981. My classmates were busily preparing to go their separate ways, through assignments and wedding plans. It seemed like every one had an apartment down town except for me. We no longer needed to pull together as a team to graduate; except for a few people struggling academically, graduation “was in the bag.” I missed the camaraderie of my earlier years. Free of crushing time commitments, I felt directionless, without a mission. No one ever asked how I was doing; instead they kidded me about having life “made.” I had already “changed the world”–women would graduate. The vacuum created by empty weekend hallways, no way left to prove myself, my future already determined without anything I could do to change it (short of “screwing it up”) sucked all joy from me. Every moment of the past, tumultuous years had been spent learning to revel in shared hardships and exploring my own limits.
Then, suddenly, it was as if the Academy said, “Okay, these ARE your limits. Now go enjoy the secular, non-Spartan world.” My adrenaline levels plummeted and so did my spirits.
If Cadet First Class Henning did commit suicide, he owes me no explanation. I looked down that tunnel that is supposed to be filled with the light of impending graduation, and also saw only the darkness. God bless your soul.