CHANNAHON – Twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day, according to a study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs between 1999 and 2011. That’s one every 65 minutes.
K9S for Veterans and other veteran support organizations gathered with community members on Saturday to unveil and dedicate the Forgotten Warrior Memorial at Channahon State Park. The circle of polished stone monuments and flags honors veterans who have lost their battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as those who continue to struggle with mental warfare long after they return from the battlefield.
Roughy 250 people sat or stood before a temporary stage next to the memorial. Local leaders, veterans and mothers of fallen soldiers delivered remarks. By the second speaker, a light drizzle began to fall on the crowd.
“When I saw the weather report today I was disappointed, but maybe this is better,” Channahon Mayor Missey Moorman Schumacher said from the podium. “Maybe this weather is more indicative and appropriate for the struggles of these veterans.”
Many of the presenters spoke on their personal struggles with PTSD. Among them was Dan Miller, a spokesperson with Wounded Warrior Project.
“With 30 years in the military and 14 with the police, I started having dark thoughts. ... I was afraid of coming forward, afraid that I would embarrass the military and those who served under me. I was afraid I wouldn’t be a man if I admitted I needed help," he said. "There was a night I got into my car and put my service weapon against my temple. By the grace of God I came away from that and got help ... If you know anyone you think might struggle, I’m asking you; I’m begging you; talk to them.”
Mothers Denise Williams and Wendy Meyers both spoke about losing their sons to wounds sustained on the battlefield. Williams’ son Andrew was killed in Afghanistan. Meyer’s son Brandon lost his battle with PTSD after returning home from Iraq.
“Five days before he died Brandon was crying at my door because one of his friends from the military had taken their own life. I asked him if he ever had those thoughts and he said ‘No, mom, I want to live,’” Meyers said.
It was an experience other veternas had as well.
“I’ve had friends of mine lose their battle and I keep asking myself ‘what did I miss?’” Miller said, “The fight is real, folks, and we have to keep fighting it,”
The Idea for the memorial came to K9S for Veterans founder Michael Tellerino three years ago right after he started his organization.
“We were providing dogs to veterans with PTSD. It’s not a cure, but it helps. Then I was thinking ‘How do we help those who lost the battle?’ I looked around the area for memorials but couldn’t find any,” Tellerino said, “We need to acknowledge the loss that so many feel when their loved ones are lost to PTSD. I hope they come here to reflect on their loss and find peace.”
Remarks lasted roughly 90 minutes. During that time the light drizzle had turned into a shower. The vast majority of the audience lacked umbrellas but not one of them departed early.
The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Color Guard retired the colors on the stage as the speakers and audience members moved to the memorial. Meyers and Williams helped raise the flags as water trickled down the polished monuments.
“When I see this memorial it helps give me some peace. It means he died for his county, too,” Meyers said.
If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, free, confidential support is offered 24/7 at the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.