RIDGELAND, SC (WSAV) – For the past 22 days, a Lowcountry military support organization has been drawing attention to the problem of soldier suicide.
OPFOB has kept a bonfire burning for 22 straight days, the exact number of soldiers who kill themselves every day according to statistics. They have a 50% higher risk for suicide, 1.5 times the National Average.
With suicides among active-duty military and veterans up nearly 20% during COVID-19, Operation Patriots Forward’s mission has become even more important.
On the last of the 22 days, Memorial Day, the group wanted to make sure they continued honoring their fallen comrades with a large-scale demonstration of love and support.
Each log placed in the fire pit near the barn on the Jasper County property carries the name of someone taken too soon. Each person honored by someone who knew them loved them or just cares.
“They meant more than just logs to us,” said JR Brown of OPFOB. “They were a name, they were somebody’s son or daughter, father, husband, wife.”
On this day the final log was placed in honor fo an active duty Marine’s mentor.
“I’d like to dedicate this to Master Gunnery Sgt Damon Grant,” said Mst Gunnery Sgt Andrew Harris as he placed the log on the fire.
OPFOB members used Sgt Grant’s log to perform another important final mission, retiring an American flag that had finished its duty.
“I’ve fought alongside very great Americans who have lost their lives and lost their lives for the colors of this nation,” said Sean Kaspar, an OPFOB board member veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sean Kasper took the ashes of the flag out – to bury them under OPFOB’s new., 60-foot tall flagpole. Then took the last log off this fire without ever putting the flame out.
“It’s emotional. it is very hard to find the words to describe but we are keeping the honor alive,” said Kaspar.
The log, which bears the name of a 19-year-old female veteran and mother killed in action was taken, still burning to a new place, for a new mission and a larger bonfire.
Dozens of veterans and their families look on as the log is placed on the 100-foot tall bonfire, and the blaze.. and the cause takes shape.
“This fire represents all the guys and gals we have lost in combat,” said
JR Brown. “The ones we have personally known or the ones that come before us.”
For Harris, it took a few minutes to get his emotions together and put another log on this fire.
“This means so much to me,” explains Harris, an active duty Marine. “This is my old unit right here. First Battalion First Marines. We lost a lot of Marines in Iraq. It just is an honor to me to keep them in my memories and remember them for as long as I live.”
Brown says the fire is important, but the lives of all veterans are why they have gathered, and created the organization.
“We are blessed to live in a country that people volunteer will fight for us and put their lives on the line. that’s why we all need to live life to the best of our ability because we owe it to them.”
The property offers hunting, fishing, and space to roam and think. But the key is offering friendship with like-minded men and women who understand and can help get them through the tough times. A different kind of family.
“You leave the everyday camaraderie connected to being deployed. The brotherhood. We all feel a void,” said Brown. “We miss the people that we served with. So what we are creating out here is a family, it’s a family effort.”
If you would like some help, or to learn more about how to get involved, or donate to OPFOB, which is a non-profit group, just go to http://www.OPFOB.org/