They are NOT just a number.
They are men and women who fought until they could not fight anymore. They are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They died from their internal injuries post deployment. Injuries that never healed.
My brother, Rob, deployed again and again, year after year, for over 22 years. He was Army Special Forces, an "Elite" and then Defense Contracting over seas in many combat and conflict areas. It never impacted him internally... until one day.... it did. He hid it, fought it. He was embarrassed and refused to admit it started to impact him. At first, he refused help, ignored it. He refused to acknowledge he was breaking down internally, the loss of sleep, the anxiety, the night terrors, the flashbacks, the sounds or black outs. It all compounded and he kept saying... "You don't understand, no one understands." He was right, no one understood, except those who walked his walk.
I tried to fight with him, for him. I got him help, put him through programs, counselor after counselor, until we found one who "got it". I was doing all I could for him, or so I thought. But it simply still was not enough. The system failed him. He would trick and beat the system each time he redeployed. He was trained to defeat the system. Everything Failed him. I... Failed.. Him. I will live with this for the rest of my life. I can't fail another.
So many have come forward to either share their own experiences, confide in their fears and struggles like Rob had. Saying many of the same words/ expressions that Rob too had said. They are not alone, yet they feel alone. Many also came forward to share their memories of Rob. Many from 20 years ago. So many people from his lifetime, decades ago to present, from all over the world. He had inspired them, encouraged them, impacted them in so many ways. I learned of many trips, awards, achievements, stories behind challenge coins, or other awards and medals. Many coins (trinkets as Rob called them) lie in a box, with untold secrets and stories we will sadly never know. I wonder, did Rob know how much and how many people he impacted over the years? How amazing he was? How much so many looked up to him? Would it have made a difference?
Suicide impacts 22 veterans a day, over 8000 a year. More die by suicide than in active war each year. Where does it end? Will it end? Their deaths are directly related to their service and deployments, injuries that are real- PTSD, TBI and as in Rob's case- Survivors Guilt. Multiple plane crashes, vehicle crashes, fire and war zones, witnessing things that are unfathomable in other countries. There is no official memorial to honor these men and women for their own ultimate sacrifice. They too, died from combat related injuries. No one likes to talk about it, post about it, or honor or embellish this type of death, yet... it's a fact and the ugly truth.
ALL of these veterans gave their lives for our country, for our continued freedom. They deserve Honor for the fight they fought and the life they lived. Honor them, tell and share their story. Honor they way they lived, not the way they died.
My hope is that one day, there will be an official memorial wall, where their names will be etched and honored for their sacrifice. A wall of Honor. Until then, let this be that Wall of Honor.