Letter writer: Veteran Jam 5K highlighted PTSD dangers

A SYMBOL: Empty boots surround a maple tree at Fletcher Community Park, a reminder of veterans who lost their battle with mental illness and took their own lives. Photo courtesy of Josiah Johnston

An event worth the attention of Asheville was recently held in Fletcher Community Park. The empty pairs of army boots encircled a maple tree, which still clung to the red leaves of autumn. The boots faced outward, as if guarding the tree from the coming winter. An American flag sprouted from each pair, a reminder that the boots were a symbol for casualties from what has proven to be the most insidious of enemies. The flags were whipped by the cold wind, as if the spirits of every soldier were calling to those gathered to remember them, and to make some kind of difference in this terrible and little-known battle, a chapter of the wars soldiers have fought which continues being written long after the guns are put away.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. Such is the name we have given to the psychological scars of war. Sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends: The boots could have been filled by soldiers from many walks of life, of every conceivable description. PTSD does not discriminate. The unifying thread among these boots was that they were representative of veterans who, somewhere in America that day, lost their battle with mental illness and took their own lives.

Twenty-two a day. Every day. That is the number of veterans who take their own lives due to mental health issues such as PTSD on a daily basis across this country. This lonely killer haunts our culture, undealt with, difficult to talk about, the dirty secret of what war does to our soldiers. Many struggle with it alone, day in and day out, without support.

The Veteran Jam 5K was an opportunity for people from many walks of life to come together and honor those soldiers who have lost this fight and to raise awareness of the dangers of PTSD when left unaddressed. Hundreds gathered on a chilly Saturday morning, Nov. 26, at Fletcher Park to commemorate those they had lost and to show unity in the face of this issue. Despite the chill, men, women and children assembled at the park and commemorated their lost loved ones, sharing stories, reading poetry and speaking together about those they knew who had died or about the issues they faced in their own struggles with PTSD.

Despite the difficult nature of the problem, in a culture where the toughness to deal with problems personally is expected, there was a sense of community and shared responsibility which emerged from the event. One of the most important things said was that veterans may not know how to ask for help or may be too embarrassed to try reaching out.

This is where we all come in. If you know a veteran, reach out to them. Tell them thank you. Ask to listen to their stories. Share a laugh. The daily toll of veterans struggling alone with these issues is impossible to ignore, and Americans with a conscience must take action to help these men and women. If you need inspiration to get you to take action, just think of the empty boots, flags blowing in the wind, and the paths those boots might have walked, filled with purpose, had someone reached out to them in time.

— Josiah Johnston
Mills River


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4 thoughts on “Letter writer: Veteran Jam 5K highlighted PTSD dangers

  1. boatrocker

    Every car I drive since George W’s 2 terms, I make sure to fly an American flag bumper sticker upside down as a symbol of distress for 2000-2008 for the GOP showing its true colors when treating vets like expendable resources (aka poor people make great cannon fodder) and gutting the VA’s budget under King George the Frat Boy II. That for a family who did the right thing since 1661.

    Vets/active duty types, guard your sons, daughters, etc against the incoming dicktater’s petty grudges where he calls upon the full might and weight of the US military (with or without that Constitution) in order to act out some some sort of personal vendetta on Twitter only using an aircraft carrier or the nuke codes.

    Anyone who demonizes veterans, teachers or scientists might want to re examine their beliefs as a voter and a citizen.

  2. John Penley

    Medical marijuana should be available from the VA and also legal in the state of North Carolina. I am a Navy Vet with PTSD and was able to use it legally when I was in Cloorado a year ago and it is very safe and it really helps. Not only that it was a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain from a back degeneration problam that I have as well. Wanna really help Vets then lobby politicians and the VA for medical marijuana.

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      I wish society would evolve beyond the point where it feels a need to be so anal about anything that a person chooses to introduce into their own bodies. Try education and tolerance instead of prohibition.

      • boatrocker

        Ahhhh, but Reagan’s War (while) on Drugs made so much bank, between the CIA illegally funding his contra war and funding his privatized prison system. Make $ off drugs, then jail the low level pushers of color.
        For his ilk,it was a win win.

        NC I predict will be the last state to ever legalize ‘the pot’. So many cancer patients could have benefited from it.
        Strange from a state that glorifies its illegal ‘shine.

        Education, however leads folks to question the world around them.
        Tolerance? Maybe Snowflake could lecture us about that.

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