Memorial Day calls attention to Purple Star effort
A stark image will greet those attending the traditional Memorial Day ceremony in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen today.
Carbondale resident Adam McCabe, an Iraq War veteran and a co-founder of Purple Star Veterans and Families, plans to erect 22 life-sized silhouette statues on the lawn, each adorned with an American flag and one of the purple flags that has become the symbol of the organization.
The display will provide a sobering reminder of a hidden cost of war that McCabe, who is one of the presenters at the ceremony, is trying to bring out of the shadows and into the mainstream of the public’s consciousness.
The 22 statues represent the number of military veterans who take their own lives each day, one approximately every 80 minutes, as a result of the trauma they experienced in combat and the hardships they often face upon returning to civilian life.
“It will provide some powerful imagery around what I have to say about our effort with Purple Star Families,” said McCabe, who founded the organization three years ago along with California resident John Henry Parker, who had lost his veteran son to a high-speed motorcycle accident.
Purple Star Families is building grassroots support through a national petition drive, as well as resolutions from local and state governments, to urge the U.S. military, Congress and President Obama to provide comprehensive decompression training and other support for returning soldiers that will help them readjust.
McCabe is a U.S. Marines veteran who had two tours in Iraq. He experienced difficulty upon his return associated with post traumatic stress disorder, as well as alcoholism and a host of other problems before he found treatment. That included a stay at the Jaywalker Lodge, a residential substance-abuse treatment program for men, which brought McCabe to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Like McCabe, Parker’s son had many difficulties assimilating back into civilian life before he lost his life in the motorcycle accident. Together, they decided to start Purple Star Families to begin to address the need for better preparation and support for returning soldiers.
“It’s something that makes sense on every level, but that doesn’t mean it’s happening,” McCabe said recently in convincing the Glenwood Springs City Council to sign a resolution of support for the Purple Star effort.
A basic Transition Assistance Program is offered through the military, but it’s more focused on coaching soon-to-be veterans about how to build a job resume and fill out applications.
“It’s more than that,” McCabe said. “What’s not being done is the decompression training to help soldiers cope after what they’ve experienced in war.”
The goal of Purple Star Veterans and Families is to reduce the incidences of suicide, accident fatalities, divorce, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, incarceration and homelessness among returning military personnel, veterans and their families, he explained.
The resolution, which has so far been adopted by local city and town councils in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Carbondale, reads in part:
“The Purple Star Veterans and Families is petitioning the Office of the President of the United States for the immediate long-term development of a viable homecoming preparedness program that can be used to help reduce fatalities among both veterans and active duty military; and,
“By raising one million petition signatures nationally from citizens, veterans, family members and friends, Purple Star Veterans and Families will create a voice for homecoming veterans that does not currently exist.”
McCabe said he has also been working with the Colorado State Senate to get a resolution before the Legislature as well.
“But this really isn’t a political agenda,” he said. “This is about uniting a million Americans to say, you are our elected officials, and this is what we want to see happen to take care of our returning servicemen and -women.”
McCabe will also be talking today about the Huts for Vets program, which invites high-risk veterans to Colorado for a multi-day backcountry hut trip in which they will be provided with some of the very tools proposed by Purple Star Veterans and Families to be able to cope with life back home.
“The curriculum will cover everything from meaningful literature to help veterans with their physical, mental and emotional health, to wilderness survival skills,” McCabe said.
The first of three Huts for Vets outings this summer is scheduled for late June.
Aspen’s Memorial Day ceremony is sponsored by the Elks Lodge No. 224, and begins at noon on the Pitkin County Courthouse lawn. A community picnic will follow.
Memorial Day ceremonies are also planned in Glenwood Springs at Rosebud Cemetery beginning at 11 a.m. today, as well as in Carbondale and Rifle.
For more information about Purple Star Veterans and Families, and to sign the online petition, visit http://www.purplestarfamilies.org. For more about the Huts for Vets program, visit hutsforvets.org.
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