Losing 20 or more veterans a day is 20 too many

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(Courtesy image)
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by Dennis Anderson, special to Aerotech News
September is Suicide Prevention Month, officially, although my sense is that it should be every month, but we observe these conventions to call attention to a specific problem and shine a light on it.

Veterans and active duty troops are sensitive to this. We are sensitive to the 20-to-22 a day count of American veterans who end their own lives. There are workshops and hotline numbers. There is research, the continuous search for answers and solutions. Then we lose another one, another 20 or so, daily!

We lost another veteran in our community this past week. He was a two-tour Iraq War veteran. Infantry soldiers pride themselves as running in the hardest crowd, performing the hardest service. World War II iconic war correspondent Ernie Pyle certainly agreed. Noting the aging in their young faces, the bitter curl of the cigarettes hanging from their lips, the dirt on their faces. He would say you have never seen anyone work so hard as the hard work done by G.I. Joe, the muddy boots foot soldier, the infantry.

The vet we lost served with infantry, and the Improvised Explosive Device that took his buddy’s life had a delayed fuse, because it also took our neighbor’s life about a decade later. He sought help. He was in a program. But somehow the help did not turn out right, whether it was medication mix, an accidental overdose, or some or all of that mixed with despair.

Intentional or not, accident or despair, Adam Spiteri served honorably with the Army’s famed 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One.” His death is another loss to our nation. He died from an IED with a concussive blast that reverberated for a decade. His sister, Alysen Spiteri, launched a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of memorial service that the VA won’t cover.

It makes for a cruel month in September, with the death of another serviceman who did not in any way choose to end his own life. Rather, he lived well, and wished for more.

We lost Marine Corps veteran Lino Torres, his friends and comrades would say, long before his time. We considered Lino to be one of the quiet heroes even though he wouldn’t play the hero. Just another vet, putting something back into the community. Lino was 63-years-old, and died, quickly and quietly, of cancer a few days ago.

People who attended veterans’ funerals and memorial services would see Lino in the line of Patriot Guard Riders, dismounting his Harley Davidson CVO and standing proud post with a flag. Lino also rode with the American Legion Riders and was Vice President of Area 6, this area, one of the largest.

Lino was a Marine, and while he was a Vietnam War-era veteran, his service was stateside, and began in 1975, just past the last and final agony of that long war. Some of his time was at Camp Lejeune, and that matters in the service he rendered this nation.

“We rode together, and if you knew Lino, you loved him,” said David Corbin, a Coast Guard veteran who serves as Ride Captain for the Antelope Valley Chapter of Southern California’s Patriot Guard Riders. “He was the most honest man, who would tell it to you straight. But he was the biggest teddy bear you ever would know.”

Somewhere in the 30,000-plus miles they rode together on their Harleys, in 2016 they made the “Run For The Wall,” the big motorcycle tribute ride to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“That was a 21-day ride,” Corbin recalled. “Riding all the way across America, we felt the love this nation holds for the veterans.”

Torres married his bride Lisa 45 years ago, and they have two grown sons, and a grandson, “and another on the way,” Corbin said. Lino was a regular in the veteran community, and he was standing post with the flag at Poncitlan Square on Memorial Day.

Back to Camp Lejeune. Anyone who served at the North Carolina base for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 can be presumed a likely cancer candidate from the toxic water that everyone there consumed during that period. Torres was a proud Marine, and the contamination there just possibly contributed to his killing.

Anyone who has served understands. And their loved ones come to understand it too. You don’t have to have served in combat for your military service to contribute materially to your cause of death. You don’t have to have been in combat, but that certainly increases the risk.

Army vet Adam Spiteri and Marine Lino Torres served their country honorably. And the loss of their lives too soon is part of the service they offered willingly to their nation. Hand salute. Semper Fi. Until Valhalla. God bless them, and send them to peaceful rest.

(Courtesy image)

 
 
 

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