Take the time to reach out to a veteran

Posted 11/9/22

It had been 28 years since I had seen my friend. The last time I had, he was beginning a tour of duty in San Diego, and I was passing through San Diego en route to Pearl Harbor.

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Take the time to reach out to a veteran


It had been 28 years since I had seen my friend. The last time I had, he was beginning a tour of duty in San Diego, and I was passing through San Diego en route to Pearl Harbor.

We met up on a Sunday. Went out to have lunch at a restaurant called the Egg and I. Like old friends do, we shared a few stories, and then chatted about the challenges of our new postings. It was a good day.

Mike and I had graduated through the same officer training program and had split the costs of renting an apartment for three of our four years at university. We bought our groceries at the Wonder Bread Day-Old store and were bonded by a love of learning, country living and the Navy.

Over the next nearly 30 years, we never spoke on the phone. We did exchange emails, once emails became a commonplace manner to communicate. Yet, even then, the emails were limited – only sent when in the course of our respective duties, his duties required him to reach out to the organization I worked in or vice versa.

It didn’t matter. In one of the great characteristics of the Navy (and likely all the services), one can go decades without seeing an old friend and still consider them to be one of your best friends. So it was with Mike.

As is also commonplace, updates from mutual friends allowed tracking one another’s careers.

Mike did well. He mastered his chosen designator as a naval aviator, flying SH-60B helicopters. The SH-60B is the type of helicopter which is deployed with a detachment of about 20 personnel aboard Navy warships.

Operational deployments to the Middle East coupled with a successful squadron command tour eventually led to command of all helicopter training in the Atlantic Fleet. That was quite a pinnacle to reach in an amazingly-competitive field.

In between his flying tours, he served on a major staff overseas, spent a short tour as a personnel officer and was an admiral’s aide. He attended the Naval War College and the Joint Forces Staff College. Two shore-side overseas tours of duty were mixed in among the operational sea time.

By any measure, he had a stellar career.

Along the way, Mike married and had two children, a girl and a boy.

To understand Mike, one had to appreciate that he had a magnetic personality. With only a look and a grin, people would seek him out in a room. He had a manner which made people gravitate to him. It was remarkable to watch.

Despite the natural affinity which people found in him, he was a very private person. He earned his collegiate degree in geology and was known to drive hours out of his way just to see a unique geological rock formation.

He was a runner. Not just a jogger; he competed in ultra-marathons, at least until a chronic back problem ended his running.

Mike was committed to the church and frequented local parishes as a matter of course.

He retired from the Navy as a captain, as his father had, with over 30 years of service.

That was what I knew when one of those mutual friends called. It took him awhile to track me down, but he persisted, and was able to let me know that on July 7, 2021, our friend Mike had killed himself.

The occurrence of death is one of those irreversible things. No one ever knows why someone commits that act of self-destruction. It is impossible to know for those left in our mortal lives.

However, one thing is certain. The anger, regret and sadness felt by those left behind is immense and lasting. It must outweigh whatever relief the person committing such an act seeks.

There was a lot which may have impacted his decision. A failed marriage – likely exasperated by the long Navy separations, a chronic medical issue, a propensity to drink to excess, the recent loss of his father as well as a close personal mentor, and the perceived loss of identity which accompanies retiring from the service after many years in uniform, may have all played a part. Service experience, itself, may have also played a role.

But, we’ll never know, at least in this life.

In an unexpected sequence of events, I was put in touch with the woman who Mike was seeing when he committed the act. My heart hurt for her, as she was expecting to spend many years together with him. I listened, and she described much of the Mike I fondly remember.

She shared one stinging revelation: Mike would periodically wonder about what I was doing. His lady friend would encourage him to look me up – after all he knew I was in East Texas – but he never did.

Over the course of the next year, I tried to stop thinking about him. The anger and frustration eventually subsided and was replaced with resigned sadness about his passing.

On this Veteran’s Day, please consider that many veterans are at a higher risk of making that irreversible and fateful decision. It is a fact. If, given the hint, that someone could use that phone call or chat or visit, please make the time.

Godspeed, Mike.