There are some things that people of a certain age never really forget. Awful things which cling to memory and you simply can’t shake them. For me such memories include the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King Jr. All in such a horribly short time in the 1960s. I also don’t forget the attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr., an attempt explained by Hinckley as an attempt to impress actress Jody Foster. Today Mr. Hinckley lives full time with his mother, after nearly 40 years in a mental institution. I also remember the first US moon landing in 1969, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
These days I also remember a lot of more current happenings; animal abuse and puppy mills, dogs not allowed inside in the weather, freezing to death. Maybe the internet and odd places like Facebook have increased the awareness of the public to these gruesome happenings, though not yet to the point where much is really done about it.
And of course, that kind of cruelty extends to children being separated from their parents at our borders, of widespread occurrences of mistreatment and neglect — characterized these days as simply ““child abuse”. Unforgettable things like homelessness, which doesn’t occur to most of us randomly; we have to focus on it to feel it and understand how horrible it must really be.
And every once in a while, one of those memories is local, something that happened close by that raises its ugly head in horror, more often than one might like.
The incident happened some 10 years ago this May. The case where a soldier in the Army at Fort Sill brought a woman and her two children into government housing on post, despite the fact that he was married to a different woman, who was not at Fort Sill, but helped fraudulently entitle the soldier to housing. The son of this woman, 10 years old, misbehaved from time to time, and so, for some five months, food was intentionally withheld as a form of punishment. He was forced to march around the dinner table as punishment while other members of the family ate their dinner. For five months. The child was punished for, among other things, eating too many sweets, was given only water and rice cakes intermittently. He was also beaten on the buttocks, legs, and head with a belt, plastic bat and broomsticks. Right here at Fort Sill.
So when this boy eventually died of malnutrition, this 10-year-old boy weighed 44 pounds, about 26 pounds less than the weight of a healthy 10-year-old. A doctor noted his body “was consistent with that of concentration camp photos”.
So Mom and Dad both went to jail and will stay a very long time.
But how could it happen? Nobody noticed? No neighbors, no school, no friends … nobody?
It’s the kinds of story I just don’t get over. And it happened here.
Lee Baxter is a former commanding general of Fort Sill.