We asked veterans to respond to The Post’s reporting on Clint Lorance and his platoon. Here’s what they said.

Murder in Afghanistan, a Trump pardon, and the soldiers left behind

The Washington Post

July 5 2010

By Julie Vitkovskaya

 

The Washington Post recently asked veterans to respond to its story on former Army officer Clint Lorance and ‘The Cursed Platoon.’ More than 300 wrote. Many said they were moved to tears reading about the experiences of 1st Platoon, often reflecting on their own service and the struggles of reintegrating back into civilian life. Others questioned how the soldiers could blindly follow orders to shoot at civilians, while others recognized they were placed in an impossible situation. A majority of veterans rejected the politicization of their service. The following is a selection of the reactions:

What was your reaction to the piece?

My reaction on reading this story was first sadness for the men, then disgust with the whole situation, and finally resignation. As a country, we should be better than this. We should be the shining city on the hill, the holders of the moral high ground; and yet instead, we’ve given way to television leadership. — Daniel Carp, 32, Army, 2010-2016 

 Many veterans suffer from PTSD and related issues. We believe in the chain of command and the UCMJ. How a non-veteran with no idea of service pardon a criminal who deserved his punishment is a slap in the face to those who served honorably. I am disgusted that my honorable service with so many others who served is used as a political statement. — Ann Wells, 60, Air Force, 1980-2008 

I have felt the guilt, confusion, and disillusion of surviving war and coming home. At least I can say, our unit did our best, and even though we did not ultimately succeed, we did what the American people asked of us with as much honor as possible. These soldiers are stained forever by the contemptible actions of a ratings-obsessed president. — Dario DiBattista, 36, Marine Corps, 2001-2007 

Lt. Col. Harry Lesher pins a first lieutenant bar on Tom Knutsen at Ford Hood, Tex., September 1971.
Lt. Col. Harry Lesher pins a first lieutenant bar on Tom Knutsen at Ford Hood, Tex., September 1971. (Courtesy of Tom Knutsen)

Just 50 years ago, I was in Army officer candidate school, learning to lead and be led. Our training focused from the start on the difficulties of having to make decisions quickly but consistently with the rules of engagement. Lt. Lorance must have missed those sessions. He seemed to enter combat command with a determination to kill Afghans, and it appears he did not respect them at all. — Tom Knutsen, Army, 1969-1972 

I served because I thought and still think that the U.S. is a force for good in the world. I wanted to help the people in Afghanistan. I was honored to spend my year in Afghanistan in a role that let me spend time working with the locals to build their nation. The very core of my going there and risking my life was jeopardized by Lorance. — Matthew Kurtz, 32, Army, 2005-2013

My reading of this caused me to weep as I haven’t in a few years. I feel empathy for these young men and their families. Those that serve together in a unit know each other better than those who weren’t there. The feelings of friendship and loyalty as well as disgust and hatred are stronger than most people experience in their lifetimes. — Cody Francis, 50, Navy, 1993-2006

I’m a former paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne Division and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, yet I can only relate to some of the experiences of First Platoon. It’s difficult to read about so many enthusiastic young men who enlisted to defend their country only to be left physically and emotionally ravaged by battle, PTSD, suicide, and gut-wrenching betrayal from their “commander in chief.” Trump relied on a bogus Fox News court-martial instead of having faith in the outcome of our military’s justice system. From day one, enlisted soldiers are conditioned to follow commands from their superiors. Any hesitation brings some combination of verbal and physical punishment. Outright refusal of an order can lead to severe nonjudicial or judicial punishment. I’m proud of the men who recognized and defied Lt. Lorance’s unlawful orders, but I completely understand how some of these young men followed them without question. It can be very difficult to determine if an Afghan is a combatant or noncombatant. — Craig Gagel, 41, Army, 2000-2003 

The truth is, military life in a war zone is basic: it’s kill or be killed, stand up for one another, and get people back home safe. Sometimes you have a person who determines the war given to them isn’t dramatic or brutal enough for their expectations and, in an effort to win medals and feed their egos, they make up their own rules to try and will the war to be more than it is. They’re no longer serving the mission or their soldiers; they’re serving themselves. — Daniel McNamara, 35, Army, 2008-2012

 

I followed this story last year. I’m so unbelievably sorry that this platoon didn’t receive the support they needed when they returned from this and subsequent deployments. That despite Lorance being found guilty, they were still blacklisted and became victims of disgusting politicization of the military and the Army by its own commander in chief. It saddens me to know the facts didn’t matter to the president in the end and these guys paid for it. I wasn’t in combat. I served in the Army for almost 8 years, with 2 overseas assignments but didn’t pay the way these soldiers did. It makes me grateful to be able to call them fellow veterans. — Victoria Chamberlin, 36, Army, 2013-2020

I’m a Vietnam combat veteran and this story has infuriated me. These platoon members have been destroyed by the aftermath of the honorable deed of upholding the best of the armed forces. Their selfless decision to report war crimes committed by their platoon commander should make them heroes for standing up for military order. — Raphael Kearns, 71, 1967-1971, Navy corpsman, serving in Vietnam in 1970; 1974-1989, Navy Nurse Corps officer

I cried. I saw too many people coming back damaged. I vowed I wouldn’t be. Vets have been given the short stick on mental health care, and I see more headstones, divorces, and substance abuse. All of us just want a good night’s sleep and to be functional at work and at home. — Robert Halcombe, 64, Navy, 1978-1986

These men were so focused on their mission to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and in just a few minutes all that was destroyed by one bad order given. I can see how in their minds they failed every aspect of their mission and how every soldier who was killed prior to that day was for nothing. You get close to the locals almost like family, and they feel the pain a regular civilian would feel if they lost the respect of a close family member. — Chris Young, 45, Marine Corps, 1992-1996

What does the country owe 1st Platoon?

Frank Scafidi, then 20, prepares for another AC-130 mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The country owes them the respect and recognition for what they had to endure. And a public discussion of how difficult it was for them to first witness those murders and then testify against Lorance. And that after all of that and he was convicted as he should have been, but pardoned by a president who mouths his support for veterans while exploiting situations like this one for nothing but his personal political benefit. That contributed to the ill-health and deaths of these soldiers as much as the war and its aftermath. Trump’s pardon, prompted by Fox News’ platform, made these soldiers pariahs in some circles rather than applauding them for doing their duty under the most difficult circumstances. — Frank Scafidi, 68, Air Force, 1969-1973 

I was moved both to anger and tears in reading this account. We owe them nationally a deep and everlasting apology for their humiliation, pain and suffering. And we owe them our sincere thanks and recognition of their courage and their caring for one another. — Philip Williams, 73, Marine Corps, 1965-1970

 

It owes restorative justice, first of all, to the Afghans who were the primary victims, to the extent possible. The harm Lorance’s elevation as a hero does to them is impossible to imagine. 
To the men of the platoon, who sought to make amends and testify honestly about what they saw and did, it owes the opportunity to redeem themselves.— Roberto Arguedas, 39, Marine Corps, 2004-2008\

I would like the men of 1st platoon you are not cursed. This strongly isn't on you.Don't carry this weight. Know what you was incredibly powerful nand nstrong.And you represent the best of our service-StevenMolinar, 30, Army, 2013-2017.

Vietnam vet with partial VA PTSD disability. I’ve seen too many cases where some idiot in charge never pays the price for what he ruins. These guys deserve better but they won’t get it and will have to keep living with the injustice. It’s good that they keep in touch, that’s their group therapy, the only thing that has ever helped me. I’d tell them: Try to wrap those memories up and stick them in a box in the corner of your head where they don’t get in your way all the time. They won’t go away, they never go away, but that will help make them manageable. And keep talking to your buddies. — Richard Conrey, 69, Army, 1971-1973


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