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Letter from the Editor: March 2012

Google the words “Camp Coryell” and a small world opens up. Or maybe rabbit hole is a better word for it. This can happen with just about any phrase you search on the web, but most don’t give you such a vivid window into the recent past. Camp Coryell was an air base in Vietnam. By the looks of it, a big one. Plunked down in the highlands not far from the Cambodian border, it was a hive of activity throughout the Vietnam War. Terry Thompson spent a year of his life there, from 1969 to ’70, as a helicopter mechanic in the 155th Assault Helicopter Company—though “mechanic” doesn’t really begin to describe everything he saw and did. It wasn’t all bad. Terry talked about how there was a swimming pool in the camp where the pilots and gunners could calm their nerves between missions and how he befriended a monkey that became a constant companion. But a lot of it was bad. Very bad. Terry was a Huey gunner, which means he spent much of his tour perched behind an M60 machine gun in the side door of a helicopter, flying into hot landing zones, ferrying soldiers in and out, picking up the wounded, providing cover support. To hear him tell it—and a few of his friends certainly heard him tell it—he lived through some horrible stuff. The kind of stuff that sticks with a person, no matter how hard he tries to forget or move on.

Terry came home and made a life for himself in Zanesville after the war. He owned a Harley dealership (two, actually), became a licensed gun dealer, and bought a farm where he and his wife put their time and energy into the thing they loved most: animals. They had horses but eventually they started rescuing exotic animals, too. It began with a lion cub and the menagerie grew from there—until, at the end, they had 56 wild animals under their care.

The end. Perhaps you heard about that back in October—the late-night news flash about a farm in Zanesville, wild animals on the loose, and the massacre that ensued. What you probably didn’t hear about was the story of the man who set that whole terrible incident in motion and how he came to that moment. That’s what Jonah Ogles details—brilliantly—in this issue. It is a surreal story, by turns riveting and grisly, but also sympathetic. Ogles’s piece makes no apologies for the man; that, at this point, would be near to impossible. But it does reveal him to be more than a tired two-dimensional stereotype: the Vietnam vet who lost it. Whatever you think of Terry Thompson and what happened on the night of October 18, 2011, he was not a monster. He was simply a man. A man at the end of a very tight rope, one that he’d been walking for decades, until he couldn’t walk it anymore.