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Cary Osborne: One year later: A story is told

Posted: April 4, 2009 11:18 p.m.
Updated: April 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
It has been a nearly year since the death of 36-year-old John Conant, a Saugus High School and College of the Canyons graduate.

A piece on John's life was to have been published in The Signal in April 2008, but people from the U.S. Army warned his scared widow of a few days about possible consequences, so the story was shelved.

Conant, a member of the U.S. Army for 14 years, died in his bedroom early on April 10, 2008.

He had sacrificed two years of his life and two years of his marriage for Iraqi freedom.

After his last tour of duty, which ended in 2006, he came back from Iraq a much different man. And he died leaving those close to him with so many questions.

His wife, Delfina Conant, said high-ranking people in the Army have recently encouraged her to have the story published.

It went like this:

Just 36 years old.

A man in his prime, lying dead on the floor at the foot of the bed he shared with the love of his life.

He liked the rock 'n' roll band Kiss and watching "Star Wars."

Fancy cuisine was not to his taste as much as McDonald's was.

John Michael Conant, a graduate of Saugus High School and College of the Canyons, spent the last 14 years in the United States Army.

He passed away April 10 while still a member of the Army.

You didn't hear about his death because it didn't occur while he was in combat in Iraq, yet he served two tours of duty in the war-torn country.

But John did die while in combat.

His last week on Earth he spent searching for forgiveness.

He told my brother Ryan that he loved him - something he wouldn't normally do because of their proximity in age - John, 36, and Ryan, 28. They didn't have that sort of step-father, step-son relationship.

John called my mother, Delfina, his wife of 14 years, just to tell her he loved her.

He had not been the same since coming back from Iraq in 2006.

He was distant and different and the marriage suffered.

To hear those words of endearment was a pleasant surprise for my mom.

Then, the night of his passing, John sat down and read 1 Corinthians 13 from the Bible.

"There are three things that will endure - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love."

That's how it closes.

John closed his eyes and went to sleep. Some seven or so hours later, my mother and brother found him dead.

Apparently a mixture of John's medications proved lethal.

While in Iraq, he saw so much death as a medic. He had to use his own weapon for protection. He befriended a little girl whose father would come back the next day and try to kill John's squad in an apparent setup.

John saved lives and survived.

He was a proud but quiet man.

That's why, when he went to sleep at night - so medicated that my mom wouldn't let him drive home - he would say little.

John didn't abuse drugs - he took prescribed doses to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, seizures and pain.

Morphine and Zoloft and other pills were prescribed to him to numb him back into society.

John came back from war to fight another - the one that eventually took his life.

You don't know John and his story because he wasn't one of the 4,000-plus who died in the war in Iraq.

John was one of the many who died because of the war in Iraq.

Many like him don't get the needed care and attention.

Maybe now they will.

As you can tell, John was my step-father and Delfina is my mother.

And anger was a quick emotional response.

For a year, I've watched my mother suffer. She is still lost.

She cries.

She's very sensitive.

And she searches for a hope that she thinks may not exist.

But she also told me that she has given talks on PTSD to military families and helped others cope with its effects.

She also told me that high-ranking members of the military recently told her it was OK to have the story published.

We found out that John, though he may have been over-medicated, also had a defect in his heart that ultimately cost him his life.

But we still question whether the Iraq war played a part in his early death.

Over the course of the past year, as the economy took center stage in the news, the war in Iraq has received less and less notoriety.

But my mother still thinks about it every day.

Her husband sacrificed his life.

And so has my mother, in a sense.

Just like many others.

We wanted people to know of his sacrifice - not just the war abroad, but the war soldiers go through at home once they return from battle.

It has a face and a name.

To us, it's John Conant.

Cary Osborne is the assistant managing editor at The Signal. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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