Wounded for Life

Charles Barger was born in Missouri in 1892. When he was 5 years old, his father was sentenced to a lifetime in prison. His mother gave him up for adoption.

When Charles was 26 years old, he enlisted in the Army as the U.S. entered World War I. With training, he was chosen to be a rifle gunner. He was given duty on the front line. His unit was bombarded with explosives containing mustard gas. Many of Charles’ colleagues required medical treatment. Some were evacuated. Charles never complained of any medical condition.

When Charles’ unit was asked to scout enemy positions, two of his officers were wounded and trapped on the battlefield. Charles and a colleague ran through enemy fire to rescue them. When they found an enlisted man on the battlefield, they also brought him to safety. Charles and his colleague were awarded the Medal of Honor. During his service, Charles received 10 Purple Hearts, the most ever received by a soldier in America’s history.

Like many of his fellow soldiers, Charles had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. Charles went through two marriages and fathered two children. Charles worked as a police officer. A shoot-out brought back the war trauma he had experienced.

While Charles worked for 12 years as a police officer, his physical and mental health continued to decline. He was let go with no severance pay or pension. He continued to struggle even though he had some support from the American Legion and the VFW.

The federal government provided no support. They claimed that Charles’ physical and medical condition were not due to his service in World War I. Charles attempted suicide after burning his house. He was shot in the thigh by a police officer. He died two days later from burns he suffered.

While the medical and mental effects of trauma have been known since before the Christian era, the medical community was slow to recognize it as an official diagnosis. It wasn’t until 1980 that it became an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Just imagine how we have treated those who have suffered from combat trauma over the years. Why is that? Could it be a matter of avoiding financial obligations? Or might it be that we don’t want to admit that we are subjecting those who serve our nation to the very likely possibility of permanent harm?

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“Learning that two daylight patrols had been caught out in No Man’s Land and were unable to return, Pfc. Barger and another stretcher bearer upon their own initiative made 2 trips 500 yards beyond our lines, under constant machine gun fire, and rescued 2 wounded officers.” – Citation presented by General John. J. Pershing to Charles Barger upon receiving the Medal of Honor

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