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Friday, April 27, 2012

Touching article in The Virginian Pilot

I am reminded of the work still to be done to keep people safe from suicide.

to view the article and video click here:  http://hamptonroads.com/2012/04/we-knew-he-had-demons-war-veterans-mom-says
By Kate Wiltrout

The Virginian-Pilot

© April 20, 2012

Jonathan Bartlett, an Iraq war veteran and double amputee who was featured in numerous Virginian-Pilot stories as he recovered from his injuries, died Tuesday at his home in Chesapeake. He was 27.

Family members said he killed himself.

On Sept. 25, 2004, Bartlett was a 19-year-old Army infantryman at the wheel of a Humvee outside Fallujah when it hit a homemade bomb. He lost one leg in the blast; the other was amputated soon after.

He spent 13 months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he learned to walk on prosthetic legs and amused nurses, therapists and visitors with his salty language and black humor. He liked to wear T-shirts referencing the stumps of his legs. One read: "I was golfing. I found the alligator." Another admonished: "Tell your children not to stare, or the bogeyman will take their legs, too."

A graduate of Maury High School, Bartlett returned to Norfolk in 2005 and enrolled at Old Dominion. He eventually moved into a wheelchair-accessible home in Deep Creek purchased with the aid of a veterans organization.

In 2007, Bartlett was one of 10 servicemembers featured in an HBO documentary called "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq."

He graduated in 2011 and got a job with the federal government, working in human resources at Norfolk Naval Station.

Bartlett was outspoken and opinionated, with a flair for the dramatic; he'd regularly post manifestos about politics, religion and government on Facebook, and link to essays and articles that invariably made him mad.

His mother, Esther Bartlett of Norfolk, said she saw him a few times in the past week and Jon seemed his usual cocky self.

"We knew he had demons," she said. "He brought probably more than a few of them back from Iraq with him. We thought he had at least made some kind of peace with them."

A friend, Jumaria Copeland, said Bartlett helped her get through tough times, whether she was struggling emotionally or financially.

"I remember being so flat broke, and he would hand me a $20. He'd say, 'I know it's not much, but it will put gas in your tank.' "

He pushed her not to give up her dream of becoming a criminal psychologist, she said, prodding her to stop thinking about it and start doing something to achieve her goal.

She remembers him as wickedly funny and verbally talented, but said she most values the inspiration he provided to rise above minor annoyances and focus on what was most important.

"Here he is, he lost his legs, he barely survived all of this, and through everything he still had a smile on his face, and he was still willing to help people," Copeland said.

Bartlett insisted he was not a hero. It made him uncomfortable when people thanked him for his "sacrifice."

"You know what sacrifice is?" he said in a Virginian-Pilot video in 2008. "Throwing yourself on top of a grenade to save your buddies, grabbing a kid out of the street at the expense of your life or limb - that's a sacrifice, because you didn't have to do it, but you did it anyway. I got hit by a bomb. I'm a casualty."

Perhaps the thing Bartlett missed most about losing his legs was being able to run. He ran track at Maury, he ran in Army training, he ran as a means of coping with life.

"If you run fast enough, and you don't look at your legs, you can almost fly," he said. "It's very peaceful."

Bartlett's funeral will be at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made in Jon's memory to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Kate Wiltrout, 757-446-2629, kate.wiltrout@pilotonline.com

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