'Sick': Rock Hill veterans on Naval Yard attack

Herald columnistSeptember 16, 2013 

Again in America Monday, a coward with a gun killed and maimed.

“The people were defenseless, unarmed,” said a Vietnam combat veteran sitting at the bar of Rock Hill’s VFW Post 2889 on West Main Street.

“Sick.”

This time, the mass shooting happened at the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital. At least a dozen dead and more hurt in what some will call a tragedy.

It is a crime.

Murder.

Another gun crime, this time at a military base where 3,000 people work. It was, no matter the details, a plot, a plan, to kill sailors and marines, civilians – or all three.

It is an attack on America, again.

It is mass murder, again.

The shooter was described as a Navy veteran who became a civilian contractor. He was armed with at least three weapons.

The shooter, Aaron Alexis, killed so many before he was killed in a shootout with police.

“It is crazy, horrible,” said Ira Adams, commander of VFW Post 2889. “Sick.”

John Thorne, a Vietnam War combat veteran of the Marine Corps and commander of Rock Hill’s VFW Post 3746 on Ogden Road, said he was “appalled” as he watched the coverage of the shootings on television.

“This stuff should not happen in America,” Thorne said. “Now they are saying 12 dead. 12 people. It doesn’t matter what branch of the service you were in, this is just wrong.”

Trista Baird found out that at least two police officers were among those shot as police battled to stop the violence and finally killed the shooter. Baird, formerly an officer with the Rock Hill Police Department, is now a State Law Enforcement Division agent.

In 2009, she was shot in the arm during the arrest of a drug dealer. Another officer was shot that day, too, as the criminal fired at police.

“Oh, no!” Baird said of anybody being shot and killed. But as a police officer, Baird knows that bad people shoot cops, too.

It is cops who cannot run away. They can and do fire back and sometimes they get shot.

In York, T.J. Martin, a military prisoner of war in North Korea in 1951 and 1952, was “stunned” by still another shooting – but the fact that it happened on a military base made it even worse.

It seems incomprehensible that anyone, possibly a veteran, could just go into a military base and shoot as many people as he could.

At the York County veterans affairs office Monday, Vietnam veteran Carl Rector said simply, “This is just plain awful.”

Barely a week ago, Rock Hill cheered 161 Army National Guard soldiers who had spent a year in Afghanistan. One of those soldiers, Command Sgt. Major Joe Medlin, whose civilian job is veterans service officer for York County, heard about the shootings while talking with Rector.

“Horrible,” Medlin said.

Medlin and the 160 others who just returned from the horrors of Afghanistan – where innocent civilians die every day for no good reason at all – cannot comprehend that someone here in America would pull the evil of killing the defenseless.

One of the people who works for Medlin is former National Guard Sgt. Chris Hoagland. In tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was in charge of squads and units and he spent uncountable days carrying an assault rifle not unlike the one used to mow down innocent people on Monday.

Hoagland had to kill to survive in those wars. He knows, and hates, killing.

“What makes someone do this in America?” he wondered.

Maybe soon America will know what made this guy grab three weapons and use them to kill so many.

And then maybe America will do something about it.

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