The Suicide of Sam Stone: Remembering All Our Fallen Soldiers

 John Prine’s song “Sam Stone” tells the story of a soldier who comes home from Vietnam, a wounded warrior.  Not only is he physically injured, he is also psychologically and spiritually consumed.

And the time that he served,  

Had shattered all his nerves,  

And left a little shrapnel in his knee.   

But the morphine eased the pain,  

And the grass grew round his brain,  

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,  

With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

We then see the terrible impact of Sam’s wounds on his family as the chorus shifts from a third-person narrative to a plaintive first-person plea from the perspective of Sam’s child.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,  

Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.  

Little pitchers have big ears,  

Don’t stop to count the years,  

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.  

Mmm….

Sam’s addiction leaves him ill-equipped to face the demands as a worker and father.

Sam Stone’s welcome home  

Didn’t last too long.  

He went to work when he’d spent his last dime  

And Sammy took to stealing  

When he got that empty feeling  

For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.   

And the gold rolled through his veins  

Like a thousand railroad trains,

And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,  

While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Ultimately, this wounded warrior chooses to end his struggle.

Sam Stone was alone  

When he popped his last balloon  

Climbing walls while sitting in a chair  

Well, he played his last request  

While the room smelled just like death  

With an overdose hovering in the air  

But life had lost its fun  

And there was nothing to be done  

But trade his house that he bought on the G. I. Bill  

For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill.

On this Memorial Day, it is important we remember all those who have given up their lives in the service of our country.  Some died (and are dying) while fighting on a military battlefield.  Some died (and are dying) fighting the effects of war in the battlefield of their mind.  My prayer for each of them, as well as for those they’ve left behind is,

“God rest your soul.”

 

Veterans Suicide Help‎   (800) 273-8255

Caregivers of Wounded Warriors SparkTeam from Torrey Shannon in Caregiver Resources

84 thoughts on “The Suicide of Sam Stone: Remembering All Our Fallen Soldiers

  1. Tho some do come home , they continue to deal with the battle of war and conflict. We should not forget, nay, we must remember all who gave their greatest for love of country and citizen alike. These precious souls are among them.

  2. Glad you found my post on Transformed by Hope. Even more glad to see your post and prayer and see that a number of folks have responded. This is a conversation that needs to continue. Thank you.

    • You are quite welcome, Daniel.

      It is good to pray together (even via the Internet) for fallen soldiers and their families.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. God bless.

  3. this is so well done. the suicide rate amongst our veterans is appalling. it’s always important to remember the fallen but it’s also just as important to not forget that just because they are lucky enough to come home, doesn’t mean they don’t still have war to face, especially for those who have served several tours. it’s been a long war – many have done 4,5, even 6 tours overseas and that’s a hefty toll to put on a mind, body and soul. thank you for taking a moment to remind readers of the importance of helping those who come home because they do need the support. it’s not easy for anyone but it’s needed. thank you again for stopping by my blog! i’m honored.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response.

      Yes, John Prine wrote “Sam Stone” near the height of the Vietnam War, but it is just as timely (if not more so) today.

      Thanks again.

  4. There are two things that will bring me to sobs in less than a second, and one of them is hearing the heart wrenching story of a soldier. They are selfless and deserve our remembrance on this day and every day. May they be blessed. Thank you for remembering them with these lyrics today.

  5. My brother-in-law returned from the military with PTSD, but was not properly diagnosed until 2010. We had many days and months over the years when we didn’t know if he would kill himself with alcohol or drugs. He is finally getting help and we pray each day that he will get stronger. This poem really hit home… Katrina

    • You can hear John Prine sing “Sam Stone” by clicking on the title at the beginning of the post.

      I am so glad your brother-in-law got some help and pray he continues to heal.

      Thank you for dropping by and sharing your story.

  6. Very important message you have presented here today. We must remember that we send young people off to experience horrors most of us can’t even imagine in our worst nightmares. Then when they come home they can’t seem to get the help and benefits they need to help them rebuild their shattered lives. Patriotism is not just remembering the fallen but speaking loudly so that more war does not create more destruction and nightmares for our children. It’s time for us to stop offering our children up to the WAR GODS in the name of patriotism. There is nothing honorable nor patriotic in young Americans dying in vain.

  7. A well written tribute, and I appreciate your publishing the suicide hotline number. On a personal note, this could have been about my Uncle Terry who was never able to leave Khe Sanh. He took his own life in 1984.

  8. Thank you for bringing attention to the critical issue of veterans’ mental health. It is a topic often overlooked by many, yet it affects not only the veterans themselves, but their families and friends in profound ways. Raising awareness that coming home from war doesn’t always mean the war is left behind is an important step in helping these men and women transition to successful civilian lives.

    • I appreciate you dropping in and offering such a thoughtful response. My prayer, as you indicate, is that we will do more to care for our “wounded warriors”.

  9. I completely agree; as we’ve both said (more or less) is that the phrase “the ultimate sacrifice” deserves re-imagination. Not all battles are fought on the field; many are fought at home. Not all scars are visible, and 22 warriors die by their own hand each and every day in this country. Thank you for your thoughtful blog.

  10. I really appreciate your post. One of my friends lost her fiancee a few years ago to suicide. He was in the army, and it got to be too much for him. It is an important message that you have put out here, and I greatly appreciate it.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your friend’s fiancée. The tragedy of suicide strikes so many – both in the military and beyond. As one commenter mentioned, 22 “wounded warriors” take their own lives each day. We’ve got to pour our prayers, our time, our talent, and our money into waging this new battle within the mind.

  11. During the Vietnam War, many of our servicemembers, men and women, came home broken in spirit and will. Many more, however, went on to become the men and women their parents wanted them to be. Quiet heroes, they came back to normal lives and a society that mostly ignored them. My brother Joe was one of those. He forsook his family for unknown reasons, went back East and eventually found himself again as a doctor. Today, he lives a happy life, his time in Vietnam in the ASA forgotten to all but a few of his family. It took over 40 years before I spoke with my brother again. I find him happy in his life and I am happy that he is safe and living well.

    Not all have found that happiness. And, for them, I grieve… and pray. Pray they will find themselves again before it is too late.

    My fellow Vietnam era veterans and I have sworn that no veteran from this day forward will be forgotten for their service. We are grateful as veterans, as Americans, that men and women are still willing to sacrifice for freedom and democracy in a country where those are the most important virtues.

    • Thank you for your passionate and personal words. I appreciate you taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. I’m glad your brother found peace. I pray this be the case for all the “wounded warriors” who seek healing.

  12. Thank you for this. As my husband and I walked along The Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial today we thought of my brother-in-law who came back from Vietnam with his life but succumbed in the end, many years later, to the effects of agent orange on his overall health. Lives are given in many ways and it is important, I believe, to remember them all.

  13. This was very beautiful! The reality that this is true for so many families is beyond sad. This indeed is another way to look at Memorial Day but no less important. Many celebrate and are thankful today, but many are grieving.

    • So true. My hope is that by concentrating our prayers and devoting our time, talent, and money to waging the war going on in the minds of “wounded warriors”, but might win the battle.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response.

  14. I am of the opinion that good poetry is that which is written in a time of such pain where the words of each stanza are there as if to treat the wounds.. The greater the conscience of the soul in war, the greater the toll upon the same. This was a very sincere and soulful rendering of that which pains the writer, and it is incumbent upon us to heed what the measure is, and who its for.

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I hope in the coming future more attention can be paid to the trouble soldiers have with acclimating back into society after being on the battlefield and the issues therein.

  16. Great post. It’s a shame a lot of soldiers have this fate happen to them. They serve our country then when they come home they get lost in the shuffle.

  17. An important reminder that not all the victims of war die on the battlefields … I have too many family members and former students who are back home now but whose lives were forever scarred in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.May God bless all our veterans.

  18. Thank you for sharing this! Suicide among veterans is a scarily common occurrence. It kills me to think of the lack of support our Vietnam vets received after the war (and still). Now, even though there is more public support for our veterans, it will take a massive amount of effort from our government and nonprofit civilian groups to combat the issues our young vets will face as they separate from the military. Thank you again for sharing this touching poem. The message rings true today.

    • So true. John Prine first recorded “Sam Stone” at the height of the Vietnam War, but the story could be taken off the headlines today – 40 years later.

      I hope and pray we all do our best to wage war against the “enemy within” that is killing off so many “wounded warriors”.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  19. I heard this song just yesterday, along with Steve Goodman’s “My Old Man” and and John Prine’s “Hello in There”. We need those reminders. Thanks for visitng

  20. Such a great way to write about the importance of remembering all who have sacrificed for our country. Thanks for raising awareness. It is awesome that you shared the suicide helpline number on this posting, clever 😀

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