Lana Waldorf spent two hours Wednesday morning poring through a “lifetime of photos” of her husband, Lance. The images brought to her mind his love for God, family and country that he sought to share at home and a world away as a soldier.
But as she reflected on his 40-year life and death Monday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a veterans’ cemetery, she also knew he could not share his deep suffering with those closest to him.
“His desire to be at peace in heaven was greater than the thought of enduring any more pain,” she said of her husband, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve who twice had been deployed to Afghanistan and soon was expecting to receive orders for a third deployment.
Police say a caretaker at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly Township, about 40 miles northwest of Detroit and not far from the Waldorfs’ home in Bingham Farms, discovered Lance Waldorf’s body in full military fatigues with a handgun next to him.
Also beside him was a note, his will, a backpack and photos of him with his wife, family members and friends, according to Michigan State Police Sgt. Gary Muir.
Lana Waldorf, 51, said her husband of seven years suffered from depression as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. She only learned of it when she found a document on their printer he had prepared for an appointment at a Veterans Administration hospital.
“My husband kept all of this from me,” she said. “I read it and was stunned because I had no idea what he was going through.”
Military officials said last week that Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record. The toll is climbing ever higher this year as long war deployments stretch on.
The 115 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops who had been activated amounted to a rate of 18.8 per 100,000 troops ? the highest since the Army began keeping records in 1980.
“We see a lot of things that are going on in the war which do contribute ? mainly the longtime and multiple deployments away from home, exposure to really terrifying and horrifying things, the easy availability of loaded weapons and a force that’s very, very busy right now,” said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general.
Lana Waldorf believes her husband’s depression kept him from aggressively seeking help. She would like the military to institute monthly evaluations for returning soldiers.
“Anyone coming back from a war where they have seen killing, where they have seen death, where they have feared for their own life, is going to come back with emotional wounds,” she said. “Those wounds need to be treated with loving care ? through a church, through the Veterans Administration, through their families. And the government needs to orchestrate this.”
Waldorf said her husband, who served with the 414th Battalion out of Southfield, never wavered in his support for the military’s mission. She said as a civil affairs officer in Afghanistan, he was responsible for rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals, villages and orphanages.
“One of his favorite things was when they would visit the orphanage,” she said. “Children just clung to the soldiers. They would hold onto their hands for hours.”
She said he was equally hardworking on the home front as a husband, stepfather to her 18-year-old son and in his civilian job as a financial consultant.
Still, the military never was far from his mind. Last November, he spoke at a meeting of the Bloomfield Hills Optimist Club. There, through a slideshow presentation that included photos of Afghan children, he shared his belief that soldiers are there to help people.
“He just exemplified the can-do spirit of the people we envision being in the … service,” said Brian MacKenzie, the club’s president.
Lana Waldorf said service is a fitting legacy for her husband.
“He was a diligent worker and he was a servant of the Lord and always sought to do the right thing,” she said. “It is a tremendous loss to my family, to my friends and to my country, and it is a tremendous gain for heaven.”
E&P Editor Greg Mitchell’s new book includes several chapters on vet suicides. It is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”