MOREHEAD CITY — As more than 100 residents gathered Monday at the Veterans Memorial in Bayview Cemetery to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their nation, it was also a time to reflect on the silent killer of many veterans today — suicide.

“As we honor those who have died in service to our country, we must care for those who live that have borne the scars of battle both physical and mental,” said speaker Bob Kirk, retired U.S. Navy chief warrant officer 4, who now serves as coordinator of the Veterans Coalition of the Crystal Coast.

Mr. Kirk, who also serves as judge advocate of American Legion Post 46, which sponsored the ceremony, said the goal of the new coalition is to prevent veteran suicides in the county, state and nation.

“According to (the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) statistics, 20 veterans die by suicide every day,” he said. “They die because they suffer from untreated wounds. Wounds that cannot be seen, but can be treated if diagnosed. Annually that loss of life is over 7,000 veterans — more per year than the total loss of life in the last 18 years in the global war on terrorism.”

Mr. Kirk said the VA Office of Rural Health has created a pilot program, Together with Veterans, to help prevent veteran suicides. It’s a community partnership between the VA, the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research and Clinical Center, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and local organizations.

“The goal of Together with Veterans is to improve communication and coordination of veteran and community services and to support local veterans and community partners in developing and implementing evidence-based suicide prevention strategies,” Mr. Kirk said.

He noted that Carteret County has been selected as a site to implement a pilot program because suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in the county. To that end, a group of about 100 people (veterans and non-veterans) has been meeting over the last several months to develop strategies to end veteran suicides.

“This group of concerned organizations and individuals has established as the Veterans Coalition of the Crystal Coast,” he said, adding that more information about the organization and services is coming soon.

“Think about how you can be a part of this important mission to save lives,” Mr. Kirk said.

He ended with a simple prayer for those who have died protecting the nation and their families: “May God forever watch over the families of the fallen, comfort the wounded, and may he protect those who are in harm’s way.”

Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones, too, encouraged residents to pray for families who have lost loved ones to war and honor their sacrifices.

“Memorial Day is our day of remembrance — a day we recognize those who have fallen during service to our country. It is our day we honor and pray for their grieving families, a day we honor and pray for our wounded soldiers and a day we honor and pray for all of our veterans, past and present,” Mayor Jones said. “Let us not forget the meaning and the traditions behind the sacred holiday and the many sacrifices of the brave individuals and families that have made our great nation.”

American Legion Post 46 Cmdr. John Sotirkys thanked veterans and their families for their service to the nation.

“Let us reflect on the freedoms we all enjoy for which many have died,” Cmdr. Sotirkys said. “To all the family members of our fallen heroes, we say thank you. We owe you and your loved ones our heartfelt gratitude. We are forever in your debt.”

To help remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Fort Macon Cmdr. Geoff Fulenwider and his wife Nancy placed a wreath at the Veterans Memorial.

Following the ceremony, people were invited to place American flags at the memorial. Among those placing flags was U.S. Coast Guard Marine Science Technician First Class Corey Tull.

EG Tull, who came with his U.S. Coast Guard wife. Lt. j.g. Jessica Tull and their children, said it was important to honor those who have died and those who continue to serve.

“Memorial Day is a time to take a few moments to remember those who serve our country and those who have given their lives,” EG Tull said. “It’s also a time to think about those who are overseas and won’t be sharing this day with their families.”

Also during the ceremony Monday, the West Carteret High School Navy Junior ROTC Color Guard presented the colors and American Legion Post 46 1st Vice Cmdr. Bob Pyer lowered the American flag to half-staff.

In addition, U.S. Marine veteran and American Legion Adjutant Rebecca Sotirkys recognized the POW-MIA empty chair that honors those missing in action and those who are prisoners of war.

American Legion Chaplain Clyde Cheezem led the invocation and benediction, and Carteret County 4-H member Elizabeth Schaffer led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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