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Tony made it home but scars did too

Sgt. Tony Case Sgt. Tony Case

East Henderson High School chorus teacher Cheryl Dobson spotted Tony Case’s signing talent early on and made sure he auditioned for school plays.

“He was in every musical,” recalled Tony’s mother, Lori Redmond. He played football for Coach Eddie Reneau, moving to offensive center his junior and senior years after playing two years on defense. Reneau, who died in 2002, was known for molding a squad that would follow him off a cliff.
“You knew if he took his hat off, you were in trouble,” Lori recalled of the head coach’s habit of slamming his cap to the turf in frustration. “They’d be running laps.”
A popular high school student, talented singer and graduate of East Carolina University, Tony would go on to join the U.S. Army and deploy to Afghanistan as a forward observer in a campaign that became known for brutal combat. Case survived the war physically, only to suffer emotionally in the years after his discharge. He took his own life last Nov. 19. Because of restrictions on gatherings, Redmond and her family and friends have waited until now to hold a memorial for Tony. A service on Saturday at East Henderson’s auditorium will include a U.S. Army Honor Guard, the American Legion Riders and Tony’s Army buddies, remembering him out loud.
The service will “highlight he was a wonderful guy and he was very smart and it was very shocking to me and his family and everyone who knew him because he seemed so well adjusted,” Redmond said. “You just never know.”


‘When his soul got ruined’

 

Born at Park Ridge Hospital in 1983, Case graduated from East Henderson in 2001 with a 4.25 grade point average. At East Carolina he earned a degree in a double major of anthropology and religious studies. Unable to get a job “on an archaeological dig or something like that,” he worked a couple of restaurant jobs back home before joining the Army.
As a college graduate, he had the opportunity to attend Officers Candidate School. A sergeant, Case told his superiors he wanted to prove his leadership to his men first. A forward observer for the 10th Mountain Division, Case saw combat at Barge Matal, a remote highland village that was on the brink of falling to insurgents.
“In Barge Matal, soldiers say they called in air strikes virtually on top of themselves, asked helicopter gunships to launch rockets into buildings next to them, and ran out of hand grenades,” the Independent of London reported in November 2009.
“There were so many near-death experiences,” Capt. Kevin Mucher, a chaplain with the 10th Mountain Division, told the newspaper. “Veterans express it as the worst contact they've ever been in.”
Case’s unit was among those sent into Barge Matal to root out insurgents.
“He was back at the base unloading a helicopter,” Redmond said. “He heard the gunfire and he told his sergeant major that ‘I’m going to help my men,’ and he ran through the village, through cornfields, bullets whizzing past him, and he found some of his soldiers dead and he pulled them all back and then he dropped the bombs on that village.
“I think that’s when his soul got ruined, because he killed over a hundred people,” Redmond said. “Whether it was men, women or children, he just leveled that village. He was very angry. He was in his 20s — you respond in anger. He did his job but sometimes those wounds don’t heal and I think he succumbed to those wounds 10 years after.”
“After what he saw over there he was ready to get out,” Redmond said.
He left the service with medals for the Afghanistan campaigns, the Global War on Terror, marksmanship, combat action and more. Plus a load of bad memories.
If the up-close horror of war was a searing experience, post-combat adjustment was a burdensome emotional grind. Case became a physical therapy assistant, hoping to work with veterans, and took jobs in Brevard and at Mission Hospital before deciding to try good-paying travel physical therapy.
Tony Case, with his dogs Cerby and Willie Pete.Tony Case, with his dogs Cerby and Willie Pete.“He sold everything and he bought a camper and he and his two dogs that he had adopted started going out west,” Redmond said. He took assignments in Oregon, Washington state and Arizona. “And then of course the pandemic hit,” Redmond said.
The travel job had opened opportunities to do things that blanketed him with calm. He tied flies and fly fished on western rivers, often after chewing marijuana gummies in states were pot was legal. “He felt at peace,” Redmond said.
Although Tony often confided to his mom that he felt lonely, she had no warning Nov. 19 would be Tony’s last day. A few days earlier, he had bought some wood to smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving, which would be the following week.
“We were working on the house,” Redmond said of that day. “He had bought some plastic to enclose the back porch for the winter. We worked on that all day. We ate some dinner. He sat there with my husband and told him, ‘Thank you so much for marrying a women that had two children already, many men won’t do that,’ and he went down to his camper and shot himself.”


‘This is an epidemic’

When Redmond and her family remember Tony, they think of his beloved rescue dogs, fly fishing and programs that help veterans suffering from PTSD.
Cerberus, named for the hound of Hades, known as Cerby, and Willie Pete, the code name for white phosphorus, helped rescue Tony.
“He and his dogs would go hiking and go foraging and traveling,” Redmond said. “They were basically his saving grace.”
She hopes the memorial creates support for Blue Ridge Humane Society, where Tony got Cerby and Willie Pete; Project Healing Waters, which connects PTSD-suffering veterans with fly fishing lessons and excursions; and Mission 22, named for the 22 veterans who die of suicide every day (motto: “When their tour is over our mission begins.”)
“This is an epidemic,” Redmond said of veteran suicides. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
After the playing of “Taps” ends the memorial service, the American Legion Riders will lead a procession of family and friends to the American Legion post downtown, where mourners will celebrate Tony’s life with barbecue and beverage. By drawing attention to Tony’s service, and the fact that, ultimately, he gave all, Redmond hopes, somewhere out there, to save a life.
“Just that he’s very missed,” she said when asked what message people should take from the memorial service. “He left a big hole in our family. I don’t want any other mother to go through this. They come home and they’ve made it safe out there only to succumb to it later.”

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The memorial service honoring the life of Sgt. Tony Case is at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at East Henderson High School. The public is invited to attend.