The Memorial Day letter to America reproduced below was written by my daughter's close friend whose family has lived out a tragedy only made worse by the military's refusal to acknowledge all of the "collateral damage" of warfare, that which does not end on the battlefield but which causes far greater pain for the surviving family and friends than that which does.
This is a poignant reminder that Memorial Day is a time to take stock of all of the costs of war, not just those from the acceptable face of war, but also from the losses that its practitioners choose not to acknowledge, and who thereby cause casualties by friendly fire far in excess of those who have fallen on battlefields.
You are failing this Memorial Day. Hundreds, if not thousands, of families are showing up to their local War Memorials to honor their children, parents, and siblings, only to be hit with the message: "their sacrifice is not acknowledged here." Why do you think this would happen? These active duty and veteran soldiers died by suicide.
This became glaring clear with my family this year. In my hometown there are currently two memorials set up for Memorial Day and my brother's name is missing on both of them. My family asked why he was not included and we were told that they only put people who were killed in action (KIA) on their memorials. While we are currently in talks with the local officials to change their policy, it shined a spotlight on the way this country is still stigmatizing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and military suicide.
The number one reason active duty and veteran soldiers do not reach out for help with their PTSD is due to the stigma they are afraid they will face. By not putting their names on the memorials you are telling their families that they were weak and they didn't die honorably. You are perpetuating the very thing that can make people choose suicide over reaching out for help. Grieving families then have to fight every year to have their loved ones recognized by the very town, city, and country that they died serving. These men and women took an oath and put on the uniform like everyone else. Their sacrifice should be acknowledged in the exact same way.
Memorial Day is a time to recognize ALL of those who died serving their country.
As of today there have been more suicide deaths than KIA deaths since OIF/OEF began. Not recognizing these causalities is dismissing the pain and suffering of thousands and minimizing the tragedy of this war. People who died by suicide did acquire their wounds on the battlefield, just like their KIA brothers and sisters. Traumatic events occurred that left them scarred for life, and because they don't have a limb missing they are ignored. My brother was killed in action; it just took a few months for his body to catch up with his mind.
These men and women went to your schools, attended your churches, marched in your bands, played on your football teams and joined the service to keep you safe. Now our "home" has turned our back on them because we don't like the particular way they died. I find this disgraceful, shameful and un-American. Do better America. Do better.
Brittany K. Brown, M.A.
Proud Sister of SrA. Donald Howard Brown III