In particular, I think of Sgt. Matthew A. Proulx of the New York State Army National Guard.
Matt attended high school with me in the 1980s. We weren't best friends but, even though he was a year older, we ran with some of the same crowd.
Matt loved photography. In fact, I have a hard time picturing Matt without a bulky SLR dangling from around his neck. He shot photos for the yearbook, had notable roles in a few school plays and once in a while would hang out in the parking lot in front of the Friendly's that used to be on the main drag. That's just what we did in our teen years back then.
Most of all, I remember Matt, like me, loved The Who. At prom his senior year, someone -- maybe Matt himself -- convinced the DJ to play its anthem "Baba O'Riley." He and some friends rallied together, fists in the air trying to channel Pete Townshend as they sang and shouted the song's bridge:
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland!
I don't recall seeing Matt after he graduated, but it didn't surprise me to learn years later that he moved to New York City and became a professional photographer. He even wrote a well-received handbook on how to be a photographer's assistant.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001.
His wife escaped by virtue of her being late that morning for her job at the World Trade Center. In response, within weeks Matt joined the Guard.
He found himself a few years later escorting truck convoys as our country waged war in Iraq. His reward: a couple of wounds during an ambush that "earned" him a Purple Heart.
He returned stateside, assigned to serve in a color guard unit that presided at military funerals. However, the worst wound he received overseas -- the one inside -- never healed.
On April 4, 2007, sitting in his Honda Civic at his home in Buffalo, N.Y., Matt Proulx, age 40, took his life -- a victim of the mental scars of war.
His last valiant act came seconds before. Matt dialed 911, explained what he was about to do, and asked the police to hurry.
"I don't want anyone else to get this gun," he told the operator, according to a published report of that night. The gun was his military assault rifle.
The suicide rate of active soldiers, for the first time in measurement, now significantly exceeds that of the general population. A recent report by U.S. Army researchers says suicides among our soldiers rose 80 percent from 2004 to 2008. About two-fifths of these have been linked to combat time in Iraq that caused depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or other "disorders," such as substance abuse. These are the quietest byproducts of the war experience.
From what I know, Matt spent his final years like many veterans, suffering silently and stoically from invisible injuries received in combat. That's apparently the military culture -- suck it up or be labeled a weakling, unfit to serve or live.
I've read a dozen articles recently about the armed forces trying to change that through more proactive screening, counseling and support of combat veterans. Until humanity can figure out how to avoid the need for war, period, that's the best we can hope for so stories like Matt's avoid tragic endings and the three lines right before that famous middle eight Matt and his friends bellowed out on prom night, hold true:
I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven.
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A few of Matt’s friends put together a video tribute to him, but copyright laws prevent me from embedding it. However, you can view “A Tribute to Matt Proulx” on YouTube.