“Imagine this: You and your spouse had this amazing day together and suddenly he is standing before you with a gun in his hand threatening to harm himself,” Elizabeth Meyers said just days after her husband, Lt. Col. Harold F. “Hootch” Meyers, committed suicide in their Solvang home.
The event unfolded on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 12, after Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 2200 block of Sunrise Way for a report of a domestic disturbance.
Deputies said a man had apparently threatened his wife with a handgun before she escaped from their home.
“The way the police described it (as a domestic disturbance) wasn’t true. In fact, we had a wonderful ‘date’ day together by lunching in Los Olivos and walking around. We went wine tasting and met several other couples who we instantly liked and started conversations with,” she said.
However, she added tearfully, “he wasn’t himself when we got home. He was this completely different person, and I just don’t want him to be remembered for his last action. He was a hero in my eyes, his family’s and others.”
Meyers described her husband as a good man and a highly decorated, dedicated Air Force officer who took care of his family.
The family moved to Solvang in May, and the couple were married in July.
After multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and other world hot spots, he retired in May and recently had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The couple was in counseling, trying to deal with the diagnosis, his wife said.
Hootch Meyers served as an electronic warfare officer with the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, and his recent duties included creating support measures to counteract remote-control improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to a colleague, Lt. Col. Jay Voss.
“Hootch was tenacious in his drive for perfection when flying, and he didn’t settle for ‘good enough’,” Voss said.
Meyers’ commendations included 11 Air Medals for combat sorties, a Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, a Joint Meritorious Unit Award with one oak leaf cluster and an Outstanding Unit Award with valor device and six oak leaf clusters, according to Voss.
Voss said it takes an average of 20 combat missions to earn an Air Medal, and pointed out that Meyers had 11 of them.
Meyers was involved in many hot spots, including Operation Desert Storm, Northern Watch, Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom. He had flown over Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo in a variety of aircraft, according to an article in a Fort McHenry newsletter in 2007.
A letter from the Air Force said Meyers helped protect 5,000 troops and $875 million worth of equipment during his final tour at Camp Victory in Iraq.
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“One of his most difficult duties was to notify families when their loved ones were killed in the line of duty. My husband also bravely pulled out a pilot after his helicopter went down while fighting this war in Iraq,” Meyers said.
On another occasion he instinctively detoured his convoy moments before an IED went off, she continued.
“He had seen and dealt with more tragedies than any one person should have to endure in a lifetime,” Meyers said.
His parents, Harold Sr. and Ceil Meyers, said their son had spent the better part of the past 10 years completing 19 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He volunteered to do his last tour out of his comfort zone, fighting on the ground with soldiers he respected. One of his last assignments he spent picking up body parts to bring home to families, and the soldier next to him was blown up by an IED. I know that was very hard for him to deal with,” said his father.
As the oldest of four sons, Hootch Meyers grew up in Levittown on Long Island, N.Y., and graduated from Holy Trinity High School before receiving a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Syracuse University.
His father and two brothers, with the New York City Fire Department, and his other brother, with the New York City Police Department, all responded to the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Meyers said her husband suffered bouts of depression during each anniversary of the event.
“He lost many friends on that day, and the day before he died he was going through some issues but I didn’t think it would lead to this,” she said.
Meyers met her husband at an Irish bar in Washington, D.C., two and a half years ago, and they quickly found out they were both stationed at the Pentagon, where she worked as an investigator for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Both had children from previous marriages and after two months of dating, he proposed to her before he deployed for Iraq in 2006.
“He would send me flowers every week he was gone and we were inseparable while he was here. My husband loved his daughters and my sons a great deal and put their needs in front of his own constantly,” Meyers said.
The family began moving to Solvang in May to start their new lives and were all together by July for the couple’s wedding. They will now be moving to El Paso where Elizabeth Meyers hopes to be reinstated in the Border Patrol, from which she resigned just three weeks ago, she said.
Last week his oldest daughter, Jessica, stood in the driveway crying softly and twisting her father’s dog tags, which hung around her neck, as she watched her father’s uniform being carried to the car. He will be wearing it one last time for his funeral in New York this week.
Harold “Hootch” Meyers is survived by his wife Elizabeth; daughters Jessica and Cassandra; stepsons Brandon Heffenhouser, Corey Heffenhouser and Tyler Santos; parents Harold and Ceil Meyers; brothers Michael, Dennis and Gregory; and extended family.