A Guilford veteran loved horses and helping others, but the injuries she brought home from combat proved too much for her to bear
Michael and Therese Marcy hold a portrait of their daughter, Charlotte Ann Marcy. The Army National Guard combat veteran committed suicide on Sept. 30, 2016. Photo by Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, about 20 veterans a day take their own lives.
Therese and her husband, Michael, are intimately familiar with that statistic. With Veterans’ Day later this week, they wanted to share the story of their daughter, her service, and what she left behind.
Fearless and strong
Therese said her daughter was a fearless young woman who loved horses more than anything else in the world.
The Marcys lived near a stable, and Charlotte groomed horses and did chores in exchange for riding lessons and a chance to compete in horse shows. She saved up her money to buy her first horse, Jupiter, when she was 15.
“She really spoke to them. There were lots and lots of horses in Charlotte’s life and, in the end, they saved her. They kept her going when she got back [from Iraq.]”
There wasn’t a tradition of military service in the Marcy family, but it turned out that their children were inspired by their passions to serve.
Charlotte’s older brother, Paul Marcy, an outstanding rower at Northfield Mount Hermon School, was recruited and accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000, achieving his goal of rowing collegiately at a Division I school while becoming a military officer.
Now a major in the Marine Corps, he served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in Special Operations and was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions in battle in Afghanistan in 2009.
Therese surmises that it probably was the Naval Academy sweatshirt that Charlotte was wearing that caught the eye of the Vermont Army National Guard recruiters at Brattleboro Union High School.
“At the time, we weren’t at war [with Iraq]. She did join the Guard in 2002, but it wasn’t expected that the Vermont Guard would be over there. I don’t think she realized that at the time, but she wanted to serve her country and she had no regrets about that.”
“Her life was about helping people,” said Michael. “People and animals, she was always trying to rescue both of them.”
“We obviously didn’t want our daughter to be in the military,” Therese said. “But, that said, we supported whatever she chose. That’s what you have to do.”
An interest in the law
Charlotte was in the law enforcement program at BUHS and the Windham County Career Center, did some ride-alongs with the Wilmington Police, and crossed paths with Mark Dooley, an Army National Guard lieutenant who was a patrolman in Wilmington. He later was killed in action in Iraq in 2005.
She decided to join the Guard and be a military policeman. Charlotte breezed through her basic and advanced training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., finishing at the top of her class.
Charlotte would have been deployed to Iraq with the Vermont Army National Guard when it was called to active duty in 2004. But Therese said she was prevented from being deployed because she was three pounds under the minimum weight limit.
That little twist of fate set a lot of things in motion. Instead of being sent to Iraq with soldiers she had been training with, she would be a replacement soldier and the Army would eventually send her there with a unit from the other side of the country.
In 2005, Charlotte was assigned to the Arizona National Guard’s 860th Military Police Company, another unit that was deploying to Iraq.
She was there for barely a week when she suffered head and spinal injuries from a roadside bomb that exploded under the vehicle she was driving on Jan. 1, 2006. Charlotte was able to swerve her vehicle just enough to avoid a direct hit.
“And we never knew what happened until she came back,” Therese said. “She went right back into action a week later.”
It turned out she had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the bomb blast, but she stayed with her unit until the end of her deployment.
Charlotte’s unit had a long, difficult year in Iraq. Thirty-six members received Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat, and two members were killed.
After the 860th came home, four members committed suicide between 2006 and 2011 and the numbers have been rising since.
“They’ve had more suicides than any other unit in the Guard.” Therese said, adding Charlotte was the ninth one, and they’ve had 13 in all. “They desperately wanted her not to be a statistic.”
She eventually recovered from her physical injuries, but Michael noticed that Charlotte was “troubled” when she got back to Vermont from active duty in 2006.
“When the Army wanted her back for a second tour, we were pretty adamant that she was not ready to go back,” Michael said.
“She had PTSD,” said Therese. “I fought tooth and nail to keep her here.”
But Therese said Charlotte wanted to go back because if she didn’t go, someone else would have to take her place. She passed her psychological tests and prepared to head back to active duty.
The Army knew she was badly hurt, but the Vermont National Guard did not, Therese said. “That’s who asked her to redeploy.”
Guard members called up to active duty are usually required to serve for 16 to 18 months, and Charlotte was short some time. So, in November 2006, she was asked to redeploy to Iraq, this time with a regular Army unit, the 759th Military Police Battalion.
She was there in 2007 and 2008, the years of the “surge,” when the U.S. increased troop levels in Iraq to increase security in Baghdad.
Charlotte was a sergeant in the 759th. She was fortunate enough to avoid another bomb attack, but Therese said she was in more than a few “precarious situations. She did whatever she had to do, but she never talked to us about it. She didn’t want to make us worry.”
Although their paths never crossed, Therese said there were points in Paul and Charlotte’s military careers that they both were deployed to Iraq. That made Michael and Therese an anomaly among Americans — parents with both of their children in combat. Only about 1 percent of American families have had a family member in the military since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
“9/11 changed the world,” Therese said. “It totally changed the world. And they both willingly wanted to serve.”
Charlotte returned to Vermont and, in 2009, bought with her savings from the Army an acre of land on Weatherhead Hollow Road in Guilford. She designed and built a small house with the help of her family and friends.
She got a horse, Mike, that she boarded at a nearby farm and got a Weimaraner puppy she called Houligan. Houligan became her service dog and was always by her side.
But 2009 was also the start of eight years of hospitalizations and treatments for her injuries.
“Charlotte was trying to keep it together and was looking forward to being independent, but she was in a lot of physical pain,” Therese said.
She finished her coursework and got a degree from Community College of Vermont, graduating with a 3.93 GPA, but by the time she transferred to Keene State College, Therese said she was having trouble focusing. Charlotte eventually had to withdraw.
She also tried to stay in the Vermont Guard, but the chronic back pain coupled with her brain injury and her PTSD made it impossible to continue. She retired in December 2013.
While she was transitioning back from active duty, Charlotte did a lot of volunteer work with the Brattleboro Drop-In Center’s emergency overflow shelter, usually taking the 1 to 7 a.m. shift.
Therese said that during the last eight years of her life, the Vermont State Police made 28 “welfare checks” to Charlotte’s home, but she still was focused on helping others.
Things took a turn for the worse on Labor Day 2014, when she suffered a life-threatening heat stroke at the Guilford Fair that resulted in an anoxic brain injury that left her with compromised speech and mobility.
She spent most of the last two years of her life in and out of hospitals. Despite all the efforts of her many caregivers, “she was depressed and not doing well,” Michael said.
“She had so many friends, and she said she was okay, but she also said nobody could help,” Therese said. “I think she could have made it eventually because she was so strong, but when your guts are taken out, and you’re a shell of yourself, it was just too much and way too hard.”
With 20 veterans a day committing suicide, and with one in four veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars suffering from PTSD, Charlotte Marcy was a casualty of a war where mental health practices and policies are still evolving to treat a flood of new patients.
But Michael and Therese Marcy say their daughter got great care from her caregivers in the Veterans’ Administration health care system, “but the red tape and administrative bureaucracy” were hard to deal with.
“She tried everything,” Therese said. “There’s no one to blame. She made her decision.”
On her government-issue gravestone are these words:
“Brave and loyal
“Cherished by all she touched.”
“That was Charlotte,” Therese said, “She lived passionately.”
As an ongoing tribute since her death, the Charlotte Ann Marcy Memorial Fund has supported others in therapeutic riding and sports programs in honor of her thoughtful nature, kinship with horses, and openness to the process of healing. Donations can be sent to the Charlotte Ann Marcy Memorial Fund, in care of Brattleboro Savings & Loan, P.O. Box 1010, Brattleboro, VT 05302.
Originally published in The Commons issue #433 (Wednesday, November 8, 2017). This story appeared on page A1. commonsnews.org