The tragic death of American fighter pilot Lt. Col. Harold F. “Hootch” Meyers, who committed a suicide at his home in Santa Barbara on Sept. 12, echoed in the Serbian media and online communities - and there were strong reasons for it.
According to the Serbian daily Alo!, Meyers was one of the American pilots who participated in the NATO bombing of Serbia and Montenegro in 1999. The bloody statistics published in the article show that the air strikes caused the deaths of 3,500 civilians, of which 79 were children, and this implies Meyers' direct responsibility. Before the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, he participated in operations in the Republic of Srpska, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Serbian newspaper Kurir portrayed Meyers as a mentally unstable person who could not withstand the pressure of conscience and the constant nightmares that plagued him since after the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. He retired a few months ago after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.
Kurir quoted Meyers' friends stating that the pilot had nightmares for a long time:
“He dreamed about bombing people, their cries, screams. He dreamed of children, the elderly, dismembered bodies.The worst thing was when he could not wake up from his nightmares. It obviously came to his head,” said one of his friends.
Meyers' wife Elisabeth is quoted saying that there were no reasons to suspect that her husband would commit a suicide:
We spent a wonderful day together, we were having lunch and enjoyed it. But he was unusually silent. This was a constant occurrence in the last few years… And when we came home, he pulled a gun and said: ”I'm sorry, I cannot take it anymore,” and then he fired a shot to his temple” […].
Serbian netizens' traumatic memories and unhealed wounds from the times of the NATO bombing initiated a heated online debate about the American pilot’s suicide, splitting the online community into two camps: some were gloating over Meyer's death, claiming he deserved such an end, while others followed the Christian doctrine of forgiveness.
On the Vidovdan.org forum, there are posts by people who lost close family members in the NATO air strikes.
Zoran Milenkovic, whose 15-year-old daughter Sanja was killed in the NATO bombing of Varvarin Bridge, does not regret Meyers' death, saying that his suicide, as well as the fate of other NATO soldiers who took part in the bombing of Serbia, is God’s justice:
The conscience starts to work in them. My daughter was a completely innocent victim. I am a victim together with her. She was a mathematical genius. She had a great future. That wound will never heal in me.
Milsu replied to Mr. Milenkovic's statement:
[…] Little Sanja is turning around in heaven, listening to what her father is saying…
Savle warns Milsu:
[…] There is no greater suffering than the pain for a missing child. No one but this man knows what he has survived. You say well, it is not according to Christianity, but he is human and he should not be judged… In this case, all of them are the victims of America: Sanja, her father and the pilot… For Sanja, all of it ended immediately, while the pilot’s agony lasted ten years, and her father stays to live with the pain.
Vladimir Veliki from Sremska Mitrovica still remembers the day when his wife Ljiljana was killed by shrapnel in the backyard of his house during the bombing of the military barracks nearby:
My daughter and I saw Ljiljana being killed, when that pilot, as a god, sowed her death… We are still suffering. After 11 years… I understand that the pilot carried out his order, but I do not feel regrets for him when he killed himself!… It could be called divine or cosmic justice.
Milsu concluded :
Poor man, he repented and killed himself as Judas. It is a pity he did not have anyone to direct him to repent and find a cure in Christ, the way Peter did.
Broker wrote on Paluba.info:
It was necessary for him to come to Serbia and he could have been forgiven.
Nationalists from the Serbian Stormfront.org forum reacted vindictively, expressing no mercy for the U.S pilot. One of them concluded very bluntly that Meyers “got what he deserved, though he had only been a tool. The devil got what belonged to him!”
The article published in Kurir caused sharp reactions from readers.
Dimitrije, whose son was born three days after the start of the NATO bombings, commented:
For me, it is completely irrelevant whether he was killed or committed a suicide. It is essential that one of the executioners of Serbs got the punishment he deserved.
It happens usually. Justice is slow, but…
When will Blair and Clinton follow him?
Only this one? Let’s go - Blair, Clinton, others… What are you waiting for?
Sandra addressed other Serbian netizens angrily:
You live in the past and because of that there is no future for this country! Stop using that ridiculous religious ‘curse'.