Who's Left Behind When a Soldier Commits Suicide?

Becca Morrison's husband came home from Iraq and killed himself. She's "still here, and still fighting."

"It's helped," she says. "Going out there and trying to change the world has helped me get to a better place."

The military needs her voice now more than ever. For active-duty personnel, U.S. military suicides hit an all-time high in 2012, surpassing deaths in combat. As Becca says, matter-of-factly, "There are going to be other girls like me."

Rebecca Harrison and Ian Morrison met young, fell in love hard and married as soon as they could. Becca was 19, going to school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, studying elementary education and meeting a lot of guys she had no interest in dating. As a joke — or perhaps as a gentle parental nudge in the right direction — her mom suggested she join an online dating site called Christian Mingle. Becca made a profile and promptly forgot all about it.

"I miss Iraq," Ian would tell Becca. "I miss the regimen of it. I don't know how to live in this world."
Courtesy of Rebecca Morrison
"I miss Iraq," Ian would tell Becca. "I miss the regimen of it. I don't know how to live in this world."
Becca flew to New York to talk about equine therapy with soldiers there, and keeps a horse of her own.
Mark Graham
Becca flew to New York to talk about equine therapy with soldiers there, and keeps a horse of her own.

When she finally looked at the site again, months later, someone had sent her a message. To her shock, he actually looked promising. Ian was 21, blond, in military school and as devout as she was.

Back home in Delaware, he'd been a classic high-school overachiever, a careful, methodical kid who was also a gifted artist, sang in the choir, was co-captain of the swimming team and ran cross country. When they met, as Becca says with a laugh, "He was at West Point and bored out of his mind." (Morrison's family did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this article.)

They started messaging on AOL. "Back when that was cool," Becca says dryly. "That's how long ago it was." Pretty soon, they graduated to Facebook.

"Why don't you let him call you?" Pam suggested, sometime in the spring. Becca did. Their first phone conversation lasted five hours.

That summer, Ian headed from West Point to a pre-training in North Carolina. He was going to be an Army pilot, and this was the first step toward learning to fly Apache helicopters. He also wanted to meet Becca.

"I want to come see you," he told her at the end of June.

They met in Houston. It was, Becca says, love before first sight. "I knew before he even came," she says. "We both did. Then of course when I —"

She stops for a second.

"It's funny, sometimes I'll be talking and I'll forget he's dead."

She sits with that for a minute, then takes a breath and continues.

"We both knew from the beginning it was going work out," she says. "It just seemed meant to be." Nonetheless, when Ian tried to give her a kiss at the airport, she thought it prudent to deny him. She turned her head and made him kiss her on the cheek instead. He gave her a hard time about that one for years.

They drove to Dallas so Becca's parents could meet Ian right away.

"You know, I had my doubts," Pam says. "It was so sudden. He was very quiet and Rebecca's not a quiet person. I thought, how is that ever gonna work? And he wasn't used to Texas people. We weren't used to a Yankee. But you know what, he fit in like he was with us forever." Despite the July heat, which had Ian commenting, politely, that he'd never known any place on earth could be so hot, they referred to that time as "the best week ever."

The following year, Ian took Becca out to West Point's Flirtation Walk, one of the only truly private places on campus. He was so nervous he fell down and skinned his knee as he was kneeling down to present her with the ring. She said yes anyway.


It bothers Becca when people refer to her life with her husband as "charmed," as one newspaper did, or suggest they lived in some kind of idyllic wonderland before his death. "That's not the kind of people we are," she says, meaning a spotless Barbie and Ken pair who never argued, never knew adversity. Still, she says: "I had six years of real love."

A year and a half after he proposed, two days after Christmas 2008, Becca and Ian were married at First United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, near where her parents live. Becca was radiant in a big white dress, Ian beaming in his navy blue dress uniform. The winter light in the church burned a bright white. One photo from that day is just a tight shot of Ian's face, watching his bride walk up the aisle, trying, and failing, to suppress a smile.

After a honeymoon in Santa Fe, the couple moved to Fort Rucker, the Alabama base where the Army trains pilots. It was the farthest Becca had ever been from her parents, but it still felt like home.

"It was very normal," she says. "A lot of Army life is very normal when they're not deployed." Ian attended flight school during the day. Becca taught elementary and primary school kids at a school near the base. They had two dogs, a horse and lots of friends, young marrieds like them. Everyone went to the beach a lot.

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17 comments
bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

I couldn't understand what went wrong in his mind - until I read that he was a militant Christian.

It must be very hard to reconcile God's prohibition against killing, with the Evangelical passion for warfare.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

War Criminals ... doing society a favor.


Willie
Willie

Well done.  Thanks for the fine story.

Kristin Haggard
Kristin Haggard

Rocky Top Therapy in Keller offers equine therapy through their Horses for Heroes program. Great program for DFW-area vets. Ask for Brooke.

Danni McCarthy
Danni McCarthy

That is so horrible and I haven't even read it yet!

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Thank you guys so much for reading. Becca also wanted me to mention that TAPS operates a national helpline for suicide survivors in crisis: 800-959-TAPS. She says, " If you are in crisis please call. Get help. Reach out. You are important."

Genevieve Kissinger
Genevieve Kissinger

I haven't read something that hit me like a ton of bricks like this in months..

Brian Whitson
Brian Whitson

damned shame. Too many are going this route. War is hell. Esp. a sham like Iraq. R.I.P.

Joshua Jennifer Faught
Joshua Jennifer Faught

This is why Pathways, www.createagreatlife.org , and "Soldiers Serve with Heart" have such an interest in helping those who return home to bring them ALL THE WAY HOME.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

NVRS 5/5 well done, a sad story to read for sure.  And sad to hear this is your last story for the Observer.  Good luck you in your endeavors and let us know where you go.  We must never let the Vagina rating die.  I can only imagine what the new vagina writer for the observer will think the first time she sees that rating

mcdallas
mcdallas

@bvckvs Wow, you are so militantly anti-Christian.  I assume that extends to all other religions.  But thanks for at least being sensitive about it.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bvckvs ... and that his soul in now burning in Hellfire for eternity for the heinousness war crimes he participated in.

... or for gross hypocrisy. 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@ScottsMerkin She'll have to decide, as I did, whether to be offended or amused. I'm glad I went with the second one. 

 
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