Veterans throughout DSHS reflect on Memorial Day


Airmen from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Air Force Honor Guard lift the casket of 1st Lt. Joseph Moser from a hearse at his funeral Dec. 11, 2015, at Woodlawn Cemetery in Ferndale. (Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez)​

This Memorial Day, veterans throughout the Department of Social and Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration share their personal stories of remembrance and honor. For these veterans, Memorial Day represents more than just a day off — it’s a time to carry the nation’s monument in their hearts and minds.

Remembering, Recognizing, and Reflecting on Memorial Day

“Memorial Day is our nation’s monument that we carry with us,” said Charlie Gilman, a U.S. Air Force veteran and project manager at the Office of Forensic Mental Health Services. “It stands as a lasting symbol for our nation.”

Gilman recently visited Monuments aux Morts, a World War I memorial in Nice, France, as well as the Veteran Memorial in his hometown of Canyonville, Oregon. These poignant monuments serve as both his most recent and earliest encounters with memorials dedicated to fallen veterans. However, they remain fixed in place. Memorial Day for Gilman is an opportunity to set aside time to memorialize, along with countless others, the lives of all those who have served and are no longer among us.

“Observing our country collectively observing Memorial Day provides me with a sense of comfort, knowing that everyone else is doing the same,” Gilman said. “The more individuals partake in these commemorations surrounded by friends and loved ones, the better. I like to imagine that the Veterans we lost would appreciate witnessing such unity.”

Honoring the lives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice

In adherence to a personal tradition, Kellet Sayre, a U.S. Army veteran and the chief financial officer at Western State Hospital, shared the story of friend Tyler Holtz on Memorial Day.

Tyler Holtz, 22 years old at the time, possessed an imposing stature, but despite his larger frame, he could complete a two-mile run in twelve minutes. My first encounter with him took place during a physical fitness test, where he nearly surpassed me in the run. I was genuinely impressed by his ability to run so well, given his size. We served together in the same company but belonged to different platoons.

During our deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, Tyler’s platoon operated in the Wardak Province, collaborating with other special operation units. On Aug. 6, 2011, Extortion 17, a Chinook helicopter carrying members of Seal Team Six, was shot down by Taliban forces in the Tangi Valley. The mission was to provide reinforcements to a unit engaged in a firefight. The resulting crash claimed the lives of all 38 service members, including both American and Afghan personnel. This incident stands as the deadliest day in the history of Seal Team Six. Following the firefight, Tyler and his platoon were assigned the arduous task of recovering the downed aircraft and the remains of the fallen service members. The recovery operation was nightmarish, taking several days in enemy territory to retrieve all 38 remains.

I share this segment of Tyler’s story because, despite the harrowing experiences and trauma endured during the war, Tyler and his platoon persevered, fulfilling their mission and deployment. Our platoons commenced joint operations shortly after the downing of Extortion 17. On the night of Sept. 24, 2011, Tyler geared up and boarded an aircraft bound for the very same valley where Extortion 17 had been shot down. After our aircraft touched down in the valley, an eerie silence lingered but it quickly dissipated for Tyler’s platoon. As they proceeded to clear their intended target, the enemy engaged them with small-arms fire. Tyler fearlessly led the assault, braving enemy fire as he cleared a building from which they were under attack. And it was at that moment that he lost his life. He was acutely aware of the potential consequences of entering the same valley where 38 of his fellow comrades had recently perished, yet he proceeded, nonetheless.

On this Memorial Day, I pay tribute to him and raise a glass in his memory.

Remembering those who fell overseas and at home

Matthew Beard, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the contracts compliance manager at the Special Commitment Center, wears a metal bracelet engraved with the name of his fallen comrade and friend, Kyle W. Wilks. Wilks was killed in action April 15, 2008, when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

While Wilks, who fell while deployed, is someone Beard remembers this Memorial Day, he also reflects on the loss of a recent friend and service member who died closer to home. Beard recalls the conversation he had with him about reenlisting shortly after Beard himself left the military.

“We were on the phone, and he expressed his desire to make a career out of it,” Beard recounted. “Fast forward to earlier this year, and we were discussing his retirement plans.”

Having recently relocated to Washington state, Beard was excited when his friend shared his intentions to move there with his family. Sadly, Beard received the devastating news that his friend had taken his own life earlier this year.

“It has been 20 years since I enlisted, but this serves as a dark reminder of the toll 20 years of war can take on individuals,” Beard said. “Just two days after his retirement ceremony, he succumbed to suicide.”

This Memorial Day, Beard remembers those who have fallen both overseas and at home acknowledging their sacrifice and reflecting on the lives they lived.

“I believe many people fail to recognize the prevalence of suicide among service members, and they should be remembered and recognized alongside those who lost their lives in combat,” Beard said.

It is estimated that more than 22 veterans die a day as a result of suicide.

A day to remember, express gratitude, and honor service members

“This day also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices our current active-duty personnel make,” said Ken Rains, a retired Air Force Veteran and director of security and PERT at Eastern State Hospital. “We should express our gratitude for their service. Most people don’t fully comprehend the challenges that come with that lifestyle and the personal sacrifices involved.”

During my service, I encountered individuals who lost their lives both downrange and at home due to suicide. One story that frequently comes to mind is from my time as an Air Force law enforcement superintendent. We had a team that witnessed horrifying events as handlers. One day, the wife of one of our team members called me, expressing her concerns about her husband, Tom, and the fear that he might take his own life. We immediately brought him into our office and had a conversation with him, discovering that he had plans to end his life while on duty that day. Today, Tom is doing well and has a successful civilian career. This experience opened my eyes to the constant risk of suicide that service members and Veterans face daily.

On Memorial Day, I take a moment to hold my family a little closer as I reflect on the service and sacrifices of those who are no longer with us. I remember those times when I had to leave for deployments, uncertain of whether I would return.

“Memorial Day serves as a time to remember and honor those who gave their lives for our nation,” Rains said. “Let us not forget to express our gratitude to those currently serving, who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice at any given moment.”

(By Jacob Jimenez)​

The following are some programs that support veterans and work to end veteran suicides:

Military Veteran Project

Stop Soldier Suicide

Gary Sinise Foundation

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. ​