Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marine Sgt Peter Kastner

Remember Our Heroes

Last Wednesday afternoon, a group of researchers working off trail in the park's backcountry came upon human remains. They hiked out and notified park rangers, who then hiked into the area Thursday to confirm the researcher's discovery. Rangers found the body of a young man near the top of Garnet Hill, a prominent summit northwest of Tower Junction. The site is well off established trails and east of the Hellroaring Trailhead, where a rental car belonging to Kastner was discovered abandoned in late May. The body was removed by helicopter, and then taken to Bozeman for a forensic autopsy, which confirmed the remains were those of the 25-year-old man. The autopsy revealed that Kastner died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Strong and athletically gifted, Peter Louis Kastner had turned to the military for challenge and structure after graduating from a suburban St. Paul high school.
He excelled during four years of service with the U.S. Marines in Iraq, helping with intelligence-gathering operations in Al Anbar Province and earning a promotion to sergeant and squad leader, according to family members. Kastner led his squadron through three roadside bomb attacks and received a Purple Heart after suffering head injuries.

Along with those injuries, family members said, Kastner’s war experiences left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. The psychological affliction caused him to unravel after being honorably discharged in August 2007 and eventually drove the 25-year-old to take his own life in a remote area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, his father, Larry Kastner said Wednesday.

Researchers found the former Marine’s body July 14 while working on Garnet Hill, a summit northwest of Tower Junction. Kastner’s abandoned rental car had been discovered in late May along Hellroaring Trailhead, not far from the summit, prompting family members to report him missing.

Larry and Sara Kastner said they had not heard from their son since late April.

“He became more difficult to connect with and more difficult to have a logical conservation with,” said Larry Kastner, who watched his son sink deeper into the isolation of PTSD, which has symptoms that can include nightmares, flashbacks and feeling irritable, numb or anxious. He said his son’s life had deteriorated from one that held promise after his graduation from boot camp in San Diego in 2003.

After his first tour in Iraq, Peter Kastner returned to Minnesota in 2004, where he married the woman he met as a young teen in the youth group at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills, Minn. He served a second tour in Iraq before returning home for good in 2007.

In letters home, Kastner had told his parents about the horrors in Iraq. He was the person who had to pick up the remains of a fellow soldier who has struck by an explosive, his father said. The fall after he left the military, Kastner and his wife, Raquel, were involved in a serious car accident in the Twin Cities. They were broadsided by another vehicle, and Kastner suffered a concussion that would only exacerbate his postwar stress, according to his mother, Sara Kastner. “He couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t remember things,” she said. Larry Kastner said his healthy, young son gradually succumbed to “the monster that is PTSD.”

A study last year by the RAND Corp. think tank estimated nearly 20 percent of returning veterans, or 300,000, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression.

Larry and Sara Kastner, who live in Chippewa Falls, Wis., turned to a longtime friend, Minnesota National Guard Army Maj. John Morris, who is a chaplain, for help. The Iraq war veteran leads a Minnesota National Guard initiative called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, which helps veterans reintegrate into their communities and supports their families. Morris said there is more help than ever before for veterans with PTSD, but it can be difficult for some to accept that help.

“It’s most mysterious to me because there was so much support for him,” Morris said of Peter Kastner. “This wasn’t an alienated individual. It’s so hard to understand. We connected him with a lot of help, but he kept running away from the help that was available.” Larry Kastner said that’s symptomatic of the disorder.

“They (PTSD victims) just want to run. They’re so uncomfortable with trying to cope with what’s happening and begin to cut themselves off from everyone,” Kastner said. “Their ability to trust is greatly diminished.”

After a divorce from his wife in 2008, Peter Kastner looked for direction and later enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, his parents said. They would have their last phone conversations with their son while he was in Oklahoma.

Peter Louis Kastner, 25, formerly of White Bear Lake, died recently from complications of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

1 comment:

Brandon Patsos said...

Just wanted to say how sorry I am to hear about Peter. I knew him when we were both in Infantry School out in Pendleton back in 2004. He was a great guy and an even better Marine. I remember looking up to him while we were in school together. May you rest in peace, brother.