If you go to the Post Secret website this week, the top secret is the secret shown above. Post Secret is a kind of internet art project. People write in their anonymous secrets and some assortment of them get posted to the site ever week. If you scroll down the page, you can see that the secrets are usually about personal things people feel like they can't share — someone suspects his or her father is having an affair, someone isn't sure he or she doesn't want to commit suicide, etc. Almost always, they are personal secrets that seem like they could be from anyone about anyone else.
This secret seemed pretty specific. There was a photo of an actual person (not just some clip-art), a Johnson City dateline on what looked like a plausible AP story, and a haunting question: Does the family know it was Army callousness and stupidity that lead to his death?
I googled the AP story and found this story about Army Pfc. David L. Potter, who died in Baghdad in 2004. That's the same photo. That's the story from the secret. The story says Potter's death was under investigation by the Army.
His death also ended up being investigated by the Hartford Courant as part of their coverage of troops known to have mental health issues who are still sent back into combat, and in May 2006, they published this upsetting paragraph about Potter's death:
Also kept in the war zone was Army Pfc. David L. Potter, 22, of Johnson City, Tenn., who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while serving in Iraq in 2004. Potter remained with his unit in Baghdad despite a suicide attempt and a psychiatrist's recommendation that he be separated from the Army, records show. Ten days after the recommendation was signed, he slid a gun out from under another soldier's bed, climbed to the second floor of an abandoned building and shot himself through the mouth, the Army has concluded.
This story is depressing as hell. The lack of good mental-health services for our men and women in uniform remains an ugly black mark on our country. I keep thinking about the person who sent in that secret, who's been living with it since 2004. Something went really wrong for Potter, and the people who should have helped him did not. I can't help but wonder if that's a fellow soldier who sent that secret in. That's a long time, no matter what, to live with something like that.
But, yes, people do know what happened to Potter — and they know it shouldn't have.