Athens State University held a ceremony Monday morning to remember and honor those lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and to recognize the many veterans lost to suicide each year. The Limestone County Honor Guard honored those lost with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.
“This day is a day of remembering and a day of honoring those who lost their lives in service. It’s not a day to be formal, but it is a day to be proud,” Athens State University’s Veterans Educational Assistance Advisor Carolyn Carthen said.
ASU President Dr. Catherine Wehlburg shared a quote from Sandy Dahl, wife of the pilot who captained United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”
Wehlburg said, “As we remember the 143 Alabama veterans who committed suicide this past year, one of the very important things for us to remember is that mental health is an essential part of how we relate to each other, how we share, and how we open ourselves to other people.”
September is National Suicide Awareness Month. A memorial, with a flag representing each Alabama veteran who committed suicide during the past year, has been placed outside Sanders Hall to reflect not only on their sacrifices but to raise awareness.
“Our goal is ensuring that service members, veterans, and their family have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and seek help,” Carthen said. “The field of flags helps to give a visual as to the size of the issue. Seeing the number of flags displayed is a grim reminder, to all, about the human cost of suicide among those who have served in America’s armed forces.”
The Mental Health Center of North Alabama Clinical Director Milla Wetzbarger spoke about what individuals can do to help those who are suffering.
“We have 143 flags here. Nationwide, we lose 22 veterans to suicide every day. This is also a day we remember the legends — the 8 paramedics, the 60 police offices, the 343 firefighters that ran toward the danger, not away. Something those who serve do every day,” she said. “We need to step back and realize that even those who don’t see combat, see things that most of us can not even imagine.”
She added, “I am not even sure people commit suicide, I think they are simply overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed by the abyss and by the enemy. There is help and the first thing we can do is we can show kindness to others.”
A new crisis line for suicide prevention has been established, 9-8-8. The hotline is answer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by people trained to deal with crisis.
“We need to know our local resources. Every single county in the State of Alabama is served by a mental health center,” Wetzbarger said. “Most of all, we can show grace.”