MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama is honoring veterans lost to suicide this month with a new campaign called “Operation We Remember.”
152 American flags will be on display at nine college campuses across the state to honor the 152 Alabama veterans whose lives were lost to suicide in 2020.
It’s a problem Puck Esposito knows too well as the Director of the Veterans Resource Center at Auburn University.
“Mr. Brightside received a game ball from Coach Pearl as the student veteran of the game, honoring him as our hero of the game. Four days later, I got a call that Mr. Brightside was gone,” Esposito recalls about Navy Veteran Josh Marshall, call sign Mr. Brightside.
“I will tell you the pain that came to the family at the Veterans Resource Center is one we deal with every day,” Esposito said.
Marshall’s roommate, friend and fellow veteran Clay Buchanan remembers him as the life of the party with a bright future as a pilot.
“Josh, man, we called him Mr. Brightside for a reason. The song, Mr. Brightside was his go-to karaoke song. Every time we went out, did anything together, he was always singing Mr. Brightside,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan doesn’t want anyone to go through what his friend did, and hopes this campaign encourages people to check in with one another and be more aware of the warning signs of suicide.
“I want them to be able to see the flags, ask questions, know what it’s about, know what it’s for, and then kind of just reach out to someone they know, whether a veteran or not and make sure everyone’s good,” Buchanan said.
The initiative was launched in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Mental Health.
Mental Health Commissioner Kimberly Boswell says the state has taken steps to provide more mental health resources recently, like adding two new crisis centers next year. She encourages anyone with suicidal thoughts to call the national suicide prevention hotline number, 988.
“I had the good fortune of knowing Josh’s mom, so I was aware of Josh’s death. It was devastating for the family. Today we want to honor all of those who have had that experience,” Boswell said.
Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis says they are also launching new PSAs addressing veteran suicide. He encourages everyone to check out Vets for Hope to learn about more resources available for veterans.