A Marine's toughest battle
The (Sterling, Ill.) Daily Gazette
STERLING – Master Sgt. Michael Magon joined the Marines in August 1986, a few months after graduating from Rock Falls High School.
During his 20 years in the military, he received numerous medals for his service and twice deployed to Iraq.
“He was the ultimate Marine,” his wife, Crystal, said.
But as a civilian, Magon struggled.
About a year after Magon retired in 2006, his family noticed signs of trauma. He didn’t like to talk about his service, or his problems. For a long time, he resisted help.
For the past few months, Magon traveled cross-country visiting family. He went to Texas to see his twin sister, Melanie LeBlanc. He traveled to Tennessee to visit family. In February, he moved from his home in California to live with his mother in Rock Falls.
Magon, 44, was with his mother on Sunday, the day he died.
“His heart stopped, and they couldn’t get it back,” his mother, Bonnie Magon Lopez, said.
“I think his body just got tired,” Crystal said.
The family wants Magon’s life, and service, to be celebrated. They also want families of other military members to hear Magon’s story so, perhaps, they can help their heroes adjust to a life after service.
‘The ultimate Marine’
Michael Magon’s father, John, served in the Army during the Korean War.
That, his mother said, likely was a major reason Michael joined the Marines.
“I think he thought it would be a good career for him,” Lopez said.
By all accounts, he had a good career.
He earned four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, six Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, Navy and Marine Corps commendation medals, and numerous other service medals.
Michael met Crystal in 1991 in California. A soft-spoken woman, Crystal beams with pride when she speaks about the man she married in 1997.
“He was the ultimate Marine,” she said. “God, his Corps and his country. He loved it all, and he wore it proudly and spoke it loudly.”
Magon was deployed twice in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He most recently was overseas in early 2006, before retiring from service that August.
His wife and mother said Michael retired so he could spend time with his family. But that wasn’t the only reason.
“The reason he got out, ... he was concerned that something might happen to him,” Lopez said. “He had been over there so many times, and he decided it was time to get out.”
A hard adjustment
Lopez said that while Magon likely experienced physical and mental trauma during his military service, he never wanted to talk about it.
“He never wanted to talk about the violence because he said we wouldn’t understand it, and he just didn’t want to bring it up,” she said.
“He didn’t like talking about it.”
Lopez said Magon had been going to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, for care. He had seen a psychiatrist in Bettendorf, Iowa.
While the treatment he received may have helped him physically, his mother said, it did not help him mentally.
“I think they like to give out prescriptions and things like that,” she said. “... Either they don’t believe the person has a problem, or they don’t really deal with it.”
For a while, Magon simply denied he needed help, Crystal said.
“Michael was a strong, proud Marine, and to be able to think that he could even waver in his convictions that he’s lived, moved and breathed for 20 years. ... I think he did not like to even look at that side of service,” she said.
Admitting he needed help made Michael feel weak, and “he was not a weak person,” his mother said.
Both his mother and his wife said that while they encouraged Magon to get help, he was not willing to deal with what he experienced.
He just kept it to himself, Lopez said.
“He was always so upbeat, and he was always telling me I was too negative and I need to get more positive, and he was always so cheerful in the mornings, it would kind of make me ill,” Lopez said. “Because he was just up, up all the time; he wouldn’t let you think negatively.”
Magon’s family first began to notice the signs of trauma a year after he retired from the service, said his 22-year-old son, Nathen.
He had “a hard adjustment” to civilian life, his mother said.
“I think he even thought about going back in,” she said. “... That was his life; that was his identity; that was him. I think sometimes he regretted getting out because of that, and that’s all he knew.
“I think he did it for his family.”
Noticing the signs and symptoms
Dr. Heather Cochran said she commonly sees Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and traumatic brain injuries in veterans who return home from combat.
She’s a staff psychologist and coordinator of the Post Traumatic Stress Clinical team at the VA Hospital in Iowa City.
Veterans suffering from PTSD have memories of a traumatic injury, Cochran said.
“[Memories] come back in a variety of ways,” she said. “Nightmares, reactions to reminders here in their life that take them back to that memory.”
Patients with PTSD also can experienced an increased heart rate, emotional stress, and depression. They often feel numb, and try to avoid situations that bring back memories.
“They are putting forth a lot of effort to keep memories away, using substances to self-medicate, such as alcohol, pain medication or tobacco,” Cochran said.
The symptoms can have a huge impact on family life and relationships. As relationships grow, stress levels increase, she said.
Substance abuse is a “significant problem,” she said, among returning veterans. In some cases, they use alcohol or drugs to try to take them out of strained family situations.
When symptoms begin varies from patient to patient, Cochran said. Typically, when veterans return, there is a “honeymoon period” when they are happy to be home, she said.
“Everything feels like it is going smoothly,” she said. “That typically wears off in a few months. It wears off, and people start noticing symptoms.”
Veterans of multiple deployments, like Magon, might have had some symptoms already, she said .
The sooner veterans seek treatment, the better. Cochran said PTSD is a treatable condition.
“It’s different from saying we can cure it,” she said. “The sooner they get in, ... the sooner they can reduce symptoms.”
How to help
Dr. Heather Cochran said there are ways to prevent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Loved ones can make sure those returning from war are re-establishing important social connections.
Returning veterans should talk about their military experience.
Returning veterans should take a gradual approach to reassuming responsibilities. As an example, throwing them full-time into parenting can be overwhelming, she said.
Symptoms should be treated as soon as they are noticed, lessening the likelihood they will interfere with a veteran's life.
Story at saukvalley.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services