Raven, Burlington's Unknown Soldier
Written by Tyler Ash
Raven Merchand, 54, of Burlington sits eating his lunch at the local church's soup kitchen. He seems content swallowing his pasta. He wears military clothing and a military hat. He has experienced things others could never imagine. Nor want to imagine.
He is the unknown soldier.
He walks to the Caring Kitchen of Burlington, a soup kitchen, at 12:30 p.m. most Sundays. He walks everywhere. With prosthetic limbs.
He says he lost both of his legs in the First Gulf War in the Special Forces. When asked exactly how it happened, he replied, "I did my job."
Cindy Ashby, head of the Caring Kitchen, said he has been coming there for the past six months.
Merchand believes every community member should hear his message: "I take a stand for job and soldiers."
However, the tactics he uses conflict with other community members' ideals. Every weekend, he sets up a table on the side of the road by and Amko gas station to sell his merchandise: authentic WWII gas masks, bikers vests, and T-shirts with bombs on them accompanied by the phrase "Let It Rain." This is Merchand's business. He sets everything up by himself. "I'm a one man army," he said.
He plans on saving up for a mission trip to Haiti, but he has other payments to make as well, such as a $300 electric bill. He expressed anger toward the Burlington government for not letting him own a car, because since he has two prosthetic limbs, he has to buy a $150 arm bar to drive a car, which he cannot currently afford.
He said he used to be a preacher, but his church took away his position after he divorced his wife. However, he is undeterred. "I'm John the Baptist Rambo Appleseed."
Merchand occasionally attends Glen Hope Baptist Church in Burlington. Pastor Larry Redding described him as an interesting individual with a mysterious background. He has appealed to Merchand to be less abrasive with his street ministry. "If he was not so military-like and upfront, he might be seen in a better light," Redding said. "People are afraid of him."
When speaking to Merchand, it is clear how much he knows, but also how disorganized his thoughts can be. In conversation, he swiftly transitioned from Medieval European history to discussing the deeper meaning of a new Lady Gaga song.
Merchand said he was like the Biblical Moses and the younger generation his successor, Joshua. "These people buzz by, hurry scurry," he said as the cars whizzed by his merchandise table. "When they ought to be worried about their souls."