ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- Every day, multiple veterans in the U.S. commit suicide.
One Vietnam veteran from Rockingham County is stepping out, literally, to raise awareness about the suicide epidemic among vets. He hopes his work saves lives.
Terry Sharpe spent 13 months in Vietnam with the Marine Corps.
He can’t remember much from his time in the warzone, but he does remember the hostility he and his fellow soldiers walked into when they came home.
“Just, wow what the hell? I just spent 13 months In hell and come back to this and friends of mine died, some of them right them beside me died … and they’re doing this to us when we come home,” he said.
He says he knows firsthand how being in the warzone changes a person. So he understands what the veterans who have gone through multiple deployments go through.
"You just keep sending them back into a warzone three, four, five times, it’s gonna take a toll. One time is enough," he said.
Six years ago, he decided to walk from Rockingham County to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about Andrew Tahmooressi – a Marine who was jailed in Mexico for seven months after he says he made a wrong turn and ended up across the border. He had his guns with him that were legally registered in the U.S., but illegal in Mexico.
“Who could resist an old man walking down the highway with flags flying going to Washington, D.C.?” Sharpe said.
Calling himself “The Walking Marine,” he made two trips for Tahmooressi. By the time he got back the second time, Tahmooressi had been released. But when he found out that 22 veterans were committing suicide every day, he decided to keep walking.
“So many people don’t realize it’s happening. I meet them all the time when I’m walking. People stop me and ask what I’m doing. I’ll tell them and they had no clue this is happening,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe has walked to D.C. and back seven times in six years. And recently, he stood at the entrance to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park for 22 hours.
“I care. I can do this to help another veteran. Sometimes it’s skin off my butt. It’s a lot of pain involved in some of it. Everything I do is painful to me. But it’s nowhere near the pain that veteran or those veterans are going through,” Sharpe said.
The latest report just released by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that number has dropped from 22 veteran suicides a day to just under 16.
“I don’t have the answers to anything,” Sharpe said. “But all I do…I know if you can get people involved, you can bring one back from that cliff. You’re not going save them all. I’m sorry. It’s just not going to happen.”
But he says each one can reach one.
“A lot of people have a veteran in their family somewhere. Just carry them out for breakfast or lunch. Call them up. Talk to them. If it sounds like they’re not doing well, you need to try to get them the help they need. Veterans are tough. They don’t want your help. They think they’re weak if they ask for help. But that’s not the way it should be,” Sharpe said.
To find out more about Sharpe’s work, check out his Facebook page.