Second Thoughts: War memorial is a matter of honor
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
Oct 07, 2011 | 5649 views | 33 33 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Honor. It’s at the heart of military service. And it’s at the heart of a renewed debate about whether one former Tracy resident deserves his name on the city’s war memorial.

Staff Sgt. David P. Senft served three full tours of duty in the Middle East with the U.S. Army as a side gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter. He was twice given an Air Medal for meritorious achievement during flight. And until he died during his fourth tour of duty, his second in Afghanistan, he had a reputation for putting others first.

Earlier this year, the Tracy War Memorial Association decided Senft’s name should be carved onto the granite memorial near City Hall, the city’s way of honoring residents who gave their lives serving their country.

But less than two months before that solemn ceremony — names are revealed on Veterans Day and carved the day before — at least one local military family says Senft’s name doesn’t belong. The reason: The staff sergeant committed suicide at Kandahar Air Base, an act that just doesn’t square with his oath to serve.

“War is awful. Anytime you lose anyone, it’s a horrible thing,” said Julie Conover, whose son, Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, was wounded in fierce fighting in 2004 in Fallujah and died in Anbar Province in 2006 when a suicide bomber attacked his unit.

Though she and her husband, Scott, empathize with the loss felt by the staff sergeant’s loved ones, they say there’s a line to be drawn when it comes to the memorial. There’s a difference, Conover said, between service and taking one’s own life, which is counter to the ethos of the armed forces.

“It’s horrible. And I understand that he had some issues. … And it’s unfortunate that the military didn’t address that,” she said. “But I still do not think he deserves to be put on a war memorial for people who serve honorably.”

They’ve petitioned the Tracy War Memorial Association, which meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the local American Legion Hall, to reconsider its decision.

The issue isn’t that Senft died away from combat. According to Sam Matthews, the former publisher of the Tracy Press who sits on the War Memorial Association board, several of the World War I vets with their names in granite died in the influenza epidemic, but were still in a war zone — like Senft — and therefore were recognized.

The issue isn’t that suicide is not recognized by the military. President Obama sent Senft’s family a letter “… in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the armed forces of the United States.” And Maj. Gen. James Terry, who oversaw the investigation of Senft’s death, concluded that Staff Sgt. Senft “died in the line of duty,” right above his signature.

The issue, as put so simply by the Conovers, is honor.

It’s touchy territory, weighing in on someone else’s integrity.

I talked to the staff sergeant’s father, David H. Senft, who provided some perspective.

He told me about a conversation he had with a lieutenant colonel, who said the Blackhawk crew chief was known for refusing to run to safety when a comrade was in danger.

According to the Army officer, he said, on at least one occasion when a wounded soldier was on the ground but the copter’s pilot wanted to take off because of heavy fire, the staff sergeant unhooked his harness and told the pilot to take off. He, however, wouldn’t leave anyone behind.

Senft hauled the casualty back to the Blackhawk — the pilot stayed, after all — and the wounded man lived.

The senior Senft recalled: “The lieutenant colonel said, ‘That’s what your son is known for. I’m not going to say it’s right or it’s wrong, but your son refused to leave anybody behind, and he never worried about himself.’”

If that’s not honorable service, I don’t know what is. And it’s worthy of remembrance.

David’s father agrees: “I think that soldier David saved would say, damn right he should be on (the memorial).”

Before killing himself in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Senft had his gun taken from him and was put on medication, but he was left in a war zone. He at least once had his fourth deployment delayed because of mental health troubles, but he was sent overseas anyway. He’d already been treated for mental health issues stateside while in the military.

If anything, Senft was failed by his country, not the other way around. That’s no reason to keep him off the Tracy War Memorial.

It’s not that I don’t understand the Conovers’ concern. I do. And in talking to them, I know they’re not cold-hearted. They’re good folks.

But on this one, I just don’t agree with them.

The suicide doesn’t besmirch the honor of what Staff Sgt. Senft did for his fellow servicemen or his country. Neither does having his name on the war memorial’s black granite lessen the honor of the others whose names are graven there.

I say, engrave the name. Let it stay there, in memory of a man who gave to his country until he had nothing left to give.

• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at jmendelson@tracypress.com.
Comments
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LuckyInTracyNot
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October 25, 2011
May I ask this. How many honorable tours in combat did Staff Sgt. Senft do? One? Two? Three? I think he was on his fourth tour of combat for our country.

He is to be remembered and discussed honorably. That's my two cents. Staff Sgt. Senft was a hero. Everybody on that wall is a hero.

Staff Sgt. Senft never left anybody behind. We can not leave him behind, either. It is our duty to recognize his dedication and honerable service to our country.
TracyCitizen
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October 14, 2011


Kudos to Tracy's War Memorial Assoc and to those who attended the meeting to make sure David Senft's name was engraved on the memorial wall honoring those who fought for our country and paid the ulitmate price.

DavidHSenft
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October 12, 2011
I would like to thank the people that attended the meeting last night who made their opinions known on this matter. The vast majority of those in attendance supported having David's name on the memorial. At the end of the meeting the announcement was made that the Boards decision during May was final. It was also clarified that the decision was unanimous.

While I respect the Conover’s right to feel differently than the majority I do find it disheartening that they based it solely on specific religious beliefs. I don’t think David ever cared if the wounded soldier he saved was Catholic or not. David was raised Christian and attended a non-denominational church in Tracy. His Pastor stressed tolerance and respect of others.

Many of the people present served in the military and had witnessed war first hand. Some went as civilians and also witnessed the cost of combat.

Some, on the other hand, never witnessed any of this first hand yet pass judgment as if they know.

I am David’s father, I was in Afghanistan and I witnessed enough to know that every death matters, courage comes in all forms and honor is not something to be taken lightly.

David H. Senft

DavidHSenft
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October 12, 2011
I would like to thank the people that attended the meeting last night who made their opinions known on this matter. The vast majority of those in attendance supported having David's name on the memorial. At the end of the meeting the announcement was made that the Boards decision during May was final. It was also clarified that the decision was unanimous.

While I respect the Conover’s right to feel differently than the majority I do find it disheartening that they based it solely on specific religious beliefs. I don’t think David ever cared if the wounded soldier he saved was Catholic or not. David was raised Christian and attended a non-denominational church in Tracy. His Pastor stressed tolerance and respect of others. That man still teaches, and follows, these values to this day.

Many of the people present served in the military and had witnessed war first hand. Some went as civilians and also witnessed the cost of combat.

Some, on the other hand, never witnessed any of this first hand yet pass judgment as if they know.

I am David’s father, I was in Afghanistan and I witnessed enough to know that every death matters, courage comes in all forms and honor is not something
LuckyInTracyNot
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October 08, 2011
I also agree he deserves a place on the war memorial. His death was combat related, he served more than one tour in a stinkhole of a place doing what he was told to do. His friends and surperiors held him in high regards.

I see the points that the Conover's are making but, every casualty of war has it's own story to tell and for us to understand.

We need to keep the politics out of the "honored" and let the war memorial decide and they did.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 08, 2011
Havin served an been in combat I fully understand th mental stresses it places on many who have served or are currently servin in similar circumstances. Suffice it ta say unless ya have worn those shoes ya simply don't understand.

That bein said thair is no reason I can thank of why SSG Sanft should not have his name inscribed on th memorial.

If Sanft had passed away from some fatal disease would people claim he didn't deserve th honor he had earned? I thank not.

Depression leadin ta suicide is a fatal disease so why should that be a reason fer not includin his name among th honored?

Now if he had taken innocent lives with him I might have a different point of view but given his sacrifices, that did ultimately end his life, regardless of his mental state at th time, should not prevent th rest of us from acknowledgin his honorable service.

Yes, it's a sad thang he didn't get th help he needed ta prevent his death but I can thank of many situations whair those servin in active combat didn't get th help they needed ta prevent thair deaths either. How th man died is not really important. What he did while he was livin is.

Put his name on th memorial an leave thair.

genewood
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October 08, 2011
Yes Staff sgt. Sneft belongs on the War Memorial. He served 3 full honorable tours and still went back for a fourth time! As a Vietnam vet. I know that our military doesn't get the honor it deserves. Tracy should be proud to have brave people like sgt. Sneft. He gave all!
loveAnurse
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October 07, 2011
Thank you Mr. Sanft

Beautifully written!!!!
DavidHSenft
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October 07, 2011
I would like to thank all those that support adding SSG David P. Senft's name to the memorial.

To those few who feel his manner of death is grounds to disregard his military career, well, shame on you.

David served 8 years and 8 months in the Army. He was a crew chief on a blackhawk and it was his job to go in, many times under fire, and rescue those who had been injured. Many times David and his crew were succesful and lives were saved. Too many times some gave all and died on the flight back to KAF.

David saw his share of life and death during his many deployments. David lost close friends in this war, Brandon Silk being the most recent. In the AR 15-6 report witnesses state that David cried during the ramp ceremony when Brandon was sent home from KAF. (Yes, soldiers do cry)

Were tears shed by his brothers in arms when David was sent home the final time? I imagine so.

A lost soldier is gone no matter the manner of death.

I am David's father and my son served his country with all he had and when he reached the point where he had no more to give of himself he died.

Thank you Jon for writing a beautiful article.

David H. Senft

loveAnurse
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October 07, 2011
Tracy Press,

Not sure why my first comment was deleted???? Have I offended someone??

Others can attack point of views but some get deleted - my point was made but thanks for being one sided.
photon
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October 07, 2011
I would have a tough time there myself. For example, the country allows the production and sale of poppy seeds? What kind of message is that?
NavyDad
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October 07, 2011
TracyCitizen, Fair enough. We wish this young man would have got the help that he needed.
BLopez
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October 07, 2011
My comment should have read: It makes me sad that there is even a discussion regarding the "honor" of a soldier who has served our country so eshall pattern

Becky Lopez

BLopez
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October 07, 2011
There appears to be problems on here...let me try again!

My comment should have read: It makes me sad that there is even a discussion regarding the "honor" of a soldier who has served our country so UNselfishly.

Becky Lopez

TracyCitizen
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October 07, 2011
Navy Dad~

I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who "believes" in suicide. To say he chose suicide isn't fair. Suicide is more than often than not a result of mental illness, which indicates he did NOT choose this type of death. Regardless, he served his country and from the sound of it, he served it well.
BLopez
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October 07, 2011
It makes me sad that there is even a discussion regarding the "honor" of a soldier who has served our country so selfishly.

Not all wounds come in the form of a missing limb or in a way that is visible. Davids wounds were worn on the inside and he continued to keep his vow and to serve his country putting himself second, protecting the very people who are now choosing to fight his name being on the memorial wall.

Had he not been serving our country and putting himself in harms way he might have been able to get the treatment that he needed and still be with us today.

Respect the family and loved ones that David left behind and do the honorable thing...just as David did.

God Bless David and ALL who have and continue to serve our great country.

Becky Lopez
JenLo
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October 07, 2011
Staff Sergeant David Paul Senft was not only an amazing soldier but a great man, father, son, brother, and friend. Tour after tour he risked his life for his country and in the end his country failed him. David should have been brought back to the U.S. immediately so that he could have received the help that he desperately needed.

EVERY soldier, dead or alive, deserves respect and honor. It has been almost a year since David's death and rather than arguing about who does or does not deserve to be on a memorial we should be coming together as a community and supporting one another. Let us heal and pray that future servicemen and women get the help they need and deserve before it's too late.

~ Jen Lopez Senft

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzC4Mk5loJU
NavyDad
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October 07, 2011
TracyCitizen, My stepson Brandon did not beleive in suicide.It's a horrible situation with the tours that this young man had, that He chose to exit this way. On my stepson's last tour, 5 Marine's died, four, including him were killed in action, one was a suicide. At Camp Pendelton, 3-1 HQ's, You will find 4 Marine's on the wall of honor there from the '05-'06 tour.
TracyCitizen
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October 07, 2011
NavyDad~

You do have the right to speak your opinion, just as we all do who live in the United States. It is because of people like Sgt. Senft and your son Lance CPL Dewey who died protecting our rights!

I ask you...don't you think your son would want his fellow comrade's name alongside his own? Again, it is to honor those who served our country. Senft's name belongs there as much as your son's name does.


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