MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it comes to service men and women, there are some who make it home and others who do not. As the country reflects on lives lost, there is also a fight ahead—the average number of suicides per day continues to rise among our service men and women.
As the country faces that hard-hitting reality, there are those who stress remembering the heroes who continue to fight the shadows of war—even in the light of life.
“Today we honor all those that have gone before us not just who have died on the battlefield," retired brigadier general Harry Montgomery Jr. said.
Where honor lies, peace struggles in the distance.
Community members gathered at West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery to remember fallen veterans.
"Many died of addiction, alcoholism or suicide, but the real bullet was untreated PTS,” Montgomery Jr. said.
Jason Lederfine is a U.S. Army Veteran with an alarming statistic—on average, 22 times a day, a service member takes their own life, he said. A report released by the Department of Veteran's Affairs echoes this claim.
“We have a lot of headstones of people here who have committed suicide,” Lederfine said.
Twenty-two is the number Lederfine has been fighting on the front lines.
“There’s a stigma in the military—we’re alpha males," Lederfine said. "We’re not allowed to show any type of emotion, so we bottle things up. There’s [also] a stigma with reporting it.”
This issue is even greater for Vietnam Veterans.
“Recently, the number of Vietnam Veterans that have committed suicide surpassed the number of Veterans that actually died in the actual conflict," he said. "You’re talking 70,000 veterans who have taken their own life after the conflict had ended.”
Donald Forkum is a Vietnam Veteran. He knew some of those service members who took their own lives.
“When I was in Vietnam, I worked in army hospitals," Forkum said. "I saw a lot of things in a compressed period of time. There were so many of our guys that were committing suicide. Unfortunately, that continues. What is different though is there are a lot of outreach programs for Veterans.”
Although there are resources for Veterans, many said there is still more that can be done.
“We’ve got to let people know that it’s okay to seek help—that it’s not weak," Lederfine said. "It’s actually brave.”
It is also brave to lean on your community for support.
“I ask people to reach out," Lederfine said. "I have a motto—it’s 'be my fight. Join my fight. Know my fight.' My fight is to stop the 22 Veterans a day from taking their life."
"A lot of people are under the impression that we need to raise awareness about suicide," he said. "If you don’t know it’s happening by now, you’ve been living under a rock. It’s not about raising awareness anymore. It’s about preventing.”
That prevention is displaying courage in another form of combat.