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Veteran StoryCorps series: Remembering Scott Flack

Harris News

Last summer, the nonprofit StoryCorps hosted an oral history project here in Wyoming, in which veterans and their families recorded honest and personal stories about their military experience. We’re grateful to begin sharing those conversations now with our listeners.

In our first story, mother and daughter Sarah and Lily share their memories of Lily’s father, Scott Flack, who passed away in 2019. The two share stories of Scott as a beloved father and community member, open up about navigating life through grief, and discuss why Wyoming’s veterans deserve better mental healthcare. The conversation is facilitated by StoryCorps’ Morgan Zipf- Meister – you’ll hear Morgan asking questions throughout.

This story has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Sarah Compton: My name is Sarah Compton, and I’m 49 years old.

Lily Flack: I’m Lily Flack. I’m 17.

Morgan Zipf-Meister: One thing that we sometimes do is we will ask people to paint a picture with words. So can you paint a portrait of Scott with words?

SC: Scott was 6’7”, so he was very tall, very skinny. Eventually he just shaved his head because he was going bald.

LF: He was a big dude. He was a gentle giant. When we would want to go on these roller coasters, he would love them, but he wouldn’t fit in them very well, so his knees would be sticking up. It was hilarious, except now I’m tall too, and I feel exactly what he was feeling.

SC: He was a volleyball player. He was a lefty and he was very, very good. As a matter of fact, probably in the volleyball community, especially here in Northern Colorado, you could talk about Scott and people would know him.

LF: My dad and I, we've always been really close. I was his first kid. So there was that. And then also with volleyball and everything, I was just kind of always with him or always wanting to be with him. We made a club together that is still going on. They're on their fifth year now in Cheyenne. So they participate in some tournaments and it's grown from one team to, I think they have seven or eight teams now. When he was my coach, I just remember we would be driving down to Denver, Fort Collins, and we'd be listening to like, Broadway show tunes in the car, and that was just always, every single time, drive there and back no matter what, it was always, there was music, and we would goof around.

SC: I actually met him when he was serving in Wichita, Kansas. He was separating from active duty air force to go play as a very old 30-plus-ish freshman for a new men's volleyball team. When he separated, he was not done with his service. So he moved from active duty air force member to a reservist.

We eventually started dating and everything just was, it was just really wonderful. We got married in Vegas. Because he was a reservist, they told him he was going to get sent overseas. So he was stationed in Saudi Arabia the first round.

He came home. We found out we were going to have a baby. And so that had to be in 2004. So, found out I was going to have a baby and he got called up again.

MZM: Wow. And what went through your head in that moment?

SC: It was unbelievable. Like, I couldn't believe that. Like it just, it didn't make any sense. I was so new at being a military spouse. I didn't know that that could happen, that you could be called twice. And by then we were well into what was happening overseas.

Anyway, he had to go then to Iraq that time, and he was going, I don't know if you remember hearing about the Green Highway. That's like the deadliest highway that you could be on. He was going on that Green Highway daily, in a not safe vehicle. As he went there, they were going into the hospital, and he was seeing children that were harmed or dying because of the war. Remember at the same time, I'm at home, pregnant with his first baby. So I think that emotionally – no, I don't think, I know that emotionally it was much more than he could handle.

I had our little baby girl. Because of the situation, they let him leave early. So he came home before Christmas and got to stay home.

MZM: How did things progress after that?

SC: Not very well. Again, hindsight 20-20, I think he had some pretty severe PTSD from that, but I wish somebody would have told me what to expect. And I wish somebody would have been asking me, what's going on in your house? How are things? I wish someone was checking in on me. I was mad at him. I was mad at the military. And so I just said, you guys did this. You let this young person go and deployed him twice with no support.

He separated from the military at that time with disability, so that was good. Eventually we did get divorced, but with the exception of the first six months, we stayed very, very close. We stayed so close, and I am close with his widow, I'm close with her now. We really worked, all of us, all three of us adults worked very hard to make sure that everything was good.

MZM: Was he, during these times, recognizing where his own mental health was?

SC: I just think, and this is just my unprofessional opinion, I think it's very hard when people have severe mental health issues for them to be able to realize and engage in what they have to do. I think he realized it, but for whatever reason, just did not continuously take care of himself.

LF: Mental health, especially in Wyoming, isn't taken as seriously as it definitely should be. I respect the military. I respect what they do. I have respect for what they do --- keeping us safe. But at the same time, when my dad went to get help, he was told there was a three month wait. So he wasn't able to get the help he needed.

MZM: What was it like for you when he passed away?

LF: It was hard. I didn't really process it very well. And it kind of made it worse in the long run to just avoid that it happened. It's upsetting, but you also, like, at least in my experience, you're kind of mad. Like, you're mad that that happened.

SC: When he died by suicide, the only way that I could explain it to them – and funny, this seems helpful to a lot of people – is that, okay, imagine a balloon on top of your head. Now fill it up with how much dad loves you. And how much dad loves Kim. And how much he loves your brother. And how much he loves volleyball. And keep filling that up -- all the love your dad has. And imagine that this is bigger than that. And he couldn't, that love couldn't win.

LF: I have people who have recently also lost their dad and they come to me and I don't know how to explain it because they’re like, “It's not getting better.” I mean, it does. It takes a really long time though. I had a therapist kind of explain it to me like this and it really kind of clicked in my mind.

So like when something happens, you're like a ball in a box, right, and there's this big old button, and it's a really small box. And every time the ball, which is you, hits the button, you get upset, you get sad, but as time goes on, the box grows, but there's still the button in there, so it's still gonna hit it, you're still gonna feel it sometimes, it just happens less often.

MZM: If there was anything that you wanted to say to him, if you could say something to him, what would you say?

LF: So, he's buried here in town, and I like to go visit him. During CFD, his birthday, any of those, I'll go and sit over there, and I kind of just talk. I think it's helpful, because it's not good to bottle everything up. And it's an easy release to just kind of go sit there. If you're upset, if you're angry, any of it. You can just go, like, be there. Just be like, “Wow, I really don't like you right now.” Or,” I really miss you.” Any of those.

So, I don't think I have anything I would want to say to him right now. I usually say my piece to him anyways.

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