By Robert Donofrio
It’s October again and I think of Mike.
In 2001, an 18 year old from the heartland of our country, after hearing about the attacks of 9/11 volunteered to join the United States Marines. His girlfriend said she’d wait for him, his family said they were proud of him and his country said they needed him.
Mike Sherman wore his uniform with pride and over a ten-year span served 4 tours in the Middle East. He did what was told of him. He fought hard and long. While on leave from Iraq he went home and married his childhood sweetheart. He was in Afghanistan when his son was born.
Ten years later in 2011, Elliott, his combat brother and an Army “wounded warrior” whom I mentor as part of my involvement with POE in Action, suggested Mike talk to me after having met him at drug rehab in Twelve Oaks in Navarre. Elliott told Mike that he too had seen the horrors of war. He too had tried to numb up his feelings to what he had experienced and he too had considered suicide.
I went to the halfway house Mike was living in at that time to meet him. Mike told me about his drinking and how his wife had taken their child and left him. She told him that he wasn’t the boy she fell in love with anymore and he wasn’t the man she married. He told me about the horrors of what he experienced in war and how he tried to “numb up” and “dumb up” his feelings with alcohol.
He talked about the problems he created with his drinking and how the Marines tried to help him by sending him to an Alcohol Treatment Program. He said his continued drinking and subsequent inappropriate behaviors resulted in his being booted out of the Marines; the only way of life he knew and loved.
“I’m a trained killer,” Mike told me, “and there isn’t any need for my type in civilian life. I don’t know how to do anything else and I don’t want to do anything else.”
I told Mike about resources available to him, and offered to assist him in engaging those resources, but he said he wanted nothing to do with any of it. He wanted to be a Marine and he wanted to have his wife and son back.
Mike said he was told that neither of those things would ever happen. Mike rejected my offers to talk and try to help. He requested that I stop trying to meet and talk to him.
The last time I saw him was when he told me to leave him alone as he turned and walked back into the House of Many Nations off of Blue Angel Boulevard. I sent numerous messages to him. Later he sent word for me to stop calling him. Mike said I was a nuisance.
On October 3rd, 2011, at age 28, Mike Sherman committed suicide and became a statistic. He joined over 6,000 other service men and women who choose to die each year rather than live with what they experienced in America’s wars.
More who have worn the American uniform in this past decade have died of suicide than those who have died on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. His friends and family miss him. I now have another scar in my heart. And Mike becomes another undiagnosed PTSD veteran who had died because we failed to understand and address his issues.
Elliott continues to see me a couple times a month; he doesn’t mention Mike in our conversations. Elliott with his missing leg straps on his prosthesis and runs as if trying to flee the memories that are etched into his soul: the sounds and smells of violence. He is trying to be part of the solution. He is reaching out every way he knows to raise awareness for Veteran’s Suicide Prevention. He is concerned that every day about 22 veterans commit suicide.
We know the problem. Do we know the solution?
Robert Donofrio – USN Retired
POE in Action, Inc.