With so many American veterans taking their lives at an alarming rate, the first presentation on Memorial Day 2022 featured a touching message to veterans who may be considering suicide by Anton Johnson with the Western Montana Vet Center.

KGVO News was there at 7:00 a.m. on Memorial Day along with a small group of individuals, veterans and family members at the Western Montana Veterans Memorial Cemetery to hear Johnson’s words.

He was introduced by the program coordinator Susan Campbell Reneau.

“I'm here as Susan mentioned, for the aspect of mental health and suicide prevention,” began Johnson. “As we celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer and enjoy our many wonderful American traditions with close family and friends, let us remember the brave veterans who gave their lives for our freedom and our way of life. Let us honor them and be grateful for their service and sacrifice.”

Credit: Peter Christian
Credit: Peter Christian

Johnson specifically referenced those veterans who have already taken their lives by suicide.

“This morning we are gathered for the 95th Memorial Day service, not only to honor the brave men and women who lost their lives while serving in uniform but also to the service members who made it home but couldn't continue the fight and ultimately took their own lives through the act of suicide,” he said.

Johnson noted the shocking number of veteran suicides that occur every day in the U.S.

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“At a rate of over 17 veterans a day, we're currently losing servicemen and women to suicide,” he said. “It's a mission of many different organizations, including the Vet Center, the VFW and the American Legion and so many more to curb and end veterans suicide. It's a huge mission, but we take it very seriously and we're doing everything we can including services like this.”

Johnson ended with a plea to veterans, families and friends of those who are considering suicide to contact the Vet Center, or any other mental health provider.

“By honoring those who've taken their lives and spreading the message that there's hope, there's training, there are services, there's counseling out there for anyone who's seeking it, and it’s just a matter of getting connected to the right people,” he said. “If you or a loved one are struggling with suicide and you're a veteran, or even if you're not a veteran, please come talk to me. I'd be willing to have that conversation with anybody  who is thinking about suicide.”

The ceremony ended with the playing of Taps by a U.S. Navy bugler.

There were numerous ceremonies throughout the day, the most by any community in the U.S. One ceremony even boasted a flyover by the iconic Miss Montana aircraft that helped drop paratroopers during the recent 75th anniversary of D-Day in France.

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