Specialist Rachel Lacy-Never Forgotten

Several years ago, when I got back from my Iraq deployment, a helpful therapist told me I was suffering from a moral injury. I’m still not quite sure what that means or how it applies to me.

On Monday, April 4th, 2016 it will be 13 years since Specialist Rachel Lacy’s death. I could have prevented it. I could have done more than what I did. I could have tried harder. No amount of convincing by friends or family will change this now fundamental belief inside of me. I failed and somebody, someone close to me died. Every year on this date I remind myself of this fact and it never gets any easier.

This feeling is not unique to me though, and it’s not unique to war. What I have is the same timeless regret humans have felt throughout our millenia of history. We have all felt it and although some examples, like feeling you contributed to another persons death, are more extreme than others, each painful anniversary reminds us of our human inadequacies.

If I had only turned left instead of right… If I had called…If I hadn’t stopped so long… If only… What if…

lacySpecialist Rachel Lacy died from a systemic autoimmune Lupus-like illness that caused massive injury to her heart and lungs. It spread rapidly and by the time the local hospital referred her to Mayo Clinic it was already too late to reverse the damage and save her life. The reaction began days after she received multiple vaccinations including smallpox and anthrax while at Fort McCoy, Wi in preparation for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. After years of research and advocacy on behalf of soldiers who became ill or died after vaccinations the Army changed it’s official vaccination policy for Army reservists. Vaccinations will be spaced out and certain combinations won’t be given at the same time.

That is the official news report written up in every article.

This is what I remember:

Specialist Rachel Lacy

You lit a fire

across the landscape

of your life.

Burning white hot

through your eyes

and your ear to ear smile.

Lava laughter bubbled up

igniting any group

you happen to be part of.

Radiant energy down your arms

transferred life back to soldiers outstretched arms,

fueled every lovers embrace.

The smothering vacuum of war

sucked at your inner flame

until it was only an ember.

“Am I going to die Ma’am?”

Eyes begging for the truth

but also for a lie.

“No, you are not going to die.”

Even when I could feel the cooling chill

down my arms wrapped around you.

By morning your landscape

turned to ice.

Numb, I was a frozen creature.

A permafrost that never melted

gripped my heart,


foregiveness took over.


I should have known because I had a similar, although much milder form of Lupus brought on from my series of vaccinations prior to Desert Storm. I could have been more aggressive in seeking help for her. After repeated pleas up the chain of command her friends and I hatched a plan to take her to the Unversity Hospital in Madison,WI, and we were waiting for leave on Friday so that we wouldn’t all be AWOL. By then it was too late.

The thing is I would never have expected you to know that on that one day you shuld have turned left, or waited 30 seconds longer at the stoplight.

You would never expect me to have forseen the life threatening sequence of events that occurred so rapidly after she first came to me telling me all her joints hurt and she felt like a real old woman.

So, we are left with a most fundamental human experience.


Until foregiveness takes over.

Rest in Peace Specialist Rachel Lacy

1981-April 4, 2003

Our Inner World

Up next: Iraq; what now?




About Frances Wiedenhoeft

After a lifetime in nursing, anesthesia and the Army I now write, blog, attend school for journalism and massage, and watch my 3 grandchildren. I am a veteran of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and try to serve other vets such as myself, and to work for peace.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, At War, Inner world and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Specialist Rachel Lacy-Never Forgotten

  1. Sunshine Jansen says:

    The ‘what ifs’ of war dwarf the ‘what ifs’ of our petty quotidian ‘peacetime’ existences. A profoundly moving poem.