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Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?

April 15, 2011
Clay Hunt     I can’t tell this story any better than the AP – besides, I don’t have the heart right now.  Rest in peace, brother. See ya on the other side. (The post title is a line I took from a celtic song, The Green Fields of France.)
 By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press Fri Apr 15, 3:47 am ET


WASHINGTON – Handsome and friendly, Clay Hunt so epitomized a vibrant Iraq veteran that he was chosen for a public service announcement reminding veterans that they aren’t alone.

The 28-year-old former Marine corporal earned a Purple Heart after taking a sniper’s bullet in his left wrist. He returned to combat in Afghanistan. Upon his return home, he lobbied for veterans on Capitol Hill, road-biked with wounded veterans and performed humanitarian work in Haiti and Chile.

   Then, on March 31, Hunt bolted himself in his Houston apartment and shot himself.

   Friends and family say he was wracked with survivor’s guilt, depression and other emotional struggles after combat.

   He really was looking for someone to tell him what it was he went over to do and why those sacrifices were made.” 

   Hunt’s death has shaken many veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who knew him wonder why someone who seemed to be doing all the right things to deal with combat-related issues is now dead.

   “We know we have a problem with vets’ suicide, but this was really a slap in the face,” said Matthew Pelak, 32, an Iraq veteran who worked with Hunt in Haiti as part of the nonprofit group Team Rubicon.

   After news of Hunt’s death spread, workers from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors met with veterans visiting Washington for the annual lobbying effort by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, or IAVA. A year earlier, Hunt had been with other veterans in dark suits calling on Congress to improve the disability claims process.

   Snapshots posted on Facebook reflect a mostly grinning Hunt. In one, he has a beard and is surrounded by Haitian kids. A second shows him on the Capitol steps with fellow veterans. There’s a shot of him from the back on a bike using his right arm to help push another bicyclist who is helping to guide an amputee in a specially modified bike.

   Friends and family say Hunt suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But with his boundless energy and countless friends, he came across as an example of how to live life after combat.

   But some knew he was grieving over several close friends in the Marines who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

   “He was very despondent about why he was alive and so many people he served with directly were not alive,” said John Wordin, 48, the founder of Ride 2 Recovery, a program that uses bicycling to help veterans heal physically and mentally.

   In 2007, while in Iraq with the Marine’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, Hunt heard over the radio that his 20-year-old bunkmate had died in a roadside bombing. Hunt later wrote online about sleeping in his bunkmate’s bed. “I just wanted to be closer to him, I guess. But I couldn’t — he was gone.”

   A month later, Hunt was pinned by enemy fire in his truck as a fellow Marine, shot in the throat by a sniper, lay nearby. Hunt wrote that seeing his friend placed in a helicopter, where he died, is “a scene that plays on repeat in my head nearly every day, and most nights as well.”

   Three days later, a sniper’s bullet missed Hunt’s head by inches and hit his wrist. He didn’t immediately leave Iraq. His parents say Hunt asked to fly to a military hospital in Germany a day later so he could accompany a fellow Marine who was shot in both legs.

    Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, said after Hunt was wounded, she’d hoped her son would get out of the military. Instead, he went to school to be a scout-sniper and went to Afghanistan. He seemed to do well. He was honorably discharged in 2009, married and enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

   He was frustrated by the Veterans Affairs Department’s handling of his disability claim. He also piled up thousands of dollars in credit card debt as he waited for his GI Bill payments. Hunt found an outlet to help improve the system by doing work with IAVA. He helped build bikes for Ride 2 Recovery and participated in long rides.

   Using his military training, he went to Haiti several times and Chile once to help with the countries’ earthquake relief efforts. He proudly told his parents of splinting an infant’s leg, and after meeting a young orphaned boy in Haiti named D’James, tried to persuade his family to adopt him.   “If I had one thing to say to my fellow veterans, it would be this: Continue to serve, even though we have taken off our uniforms,” Hunt wrote in an online testimonial for Team Rubicon. “No matter how great or small your service is, it is desired and needed by the world we live in today.”

   Hunt’s friends say he was an idealist and voiced frustration that he couldn’t make changes overnight. He also questioned why troops were still dying.

   “He really was looking for someone to tell him what it was he went over to do and why those sacrifices were made,” Wood said.

   Last year, Hunt’s life took a downward spiral. His marriage ended, he dropped out of school and he began to have suicidal thoughts, his mother said. She said Hunt sought counseling from the VA and moved in temporarily with Wordin in California.

   Things seemed to improve for Hunt in recent months after he returned to his hometown of Houston to be near family.

   He got a construction job, leased an apartment, bought a truck and began dating. He called friends to discuss the possibility of re-enlisting. In the days before he died, he hung out with friends, and he had plans the following weekend to do a Ride 2 Recovery bike ride. He even told Garza he couldn’t wait to see him at a Fourth of July reunion with other Marines.

   Then he was dead.

   “Clay was always a fighter,” Wordin said. “He was always a guy to stick things out and he basically quit life, and I was mad that he felt he had to do that at that particular time.”

   Hunt’s friends and family count him a casualty of war — just like his buddies who died in the battlefield.

Civilian Ways”

I hold the cold steel of my rifle
as I dream of foreign lands
And I promise myself
I will cherish every moment I can
But there’s ghosts that follow me around
Everywhere I am
When I say goodbye
I try to be strong
Now I’m going back to the U.S.
where I belong

I ain’t never alone
The war seems to follow me home
No longer an active soldier
When I walk down the street
I’m shaking hands
with everyone that I meet
And I watch everyone
wondering what they see

Civilian ways are now
what’s foreign to me
I came off a long tour
I left this place in two o three
May we never forget the sacrifices
My friends made for me

I live in Marysville
out on the county line
And my Brother and my Mother
both visit me all the time
And visions of you
are always running right through my mind
We always talk about
what we’re gonna do
when the war is won
We’re gonna fix up them old cars
and ride them into the sun
When I heard you’re no longer with us
Man I was done

Civilian ways are now
what’s foreign to me
I came off a long tour
I left this place in two o three

May we never forget the sacrifices
My friends made for me.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. blackwatertown permalink
    April 15, 2011 10:12 am

    Moving piece.
    From the looks of it he did everything right – trying to and succeeding in helping others. What a shame.
    I’m also a big fan of Eric Bogle’s songs and that’s a particularly appropriate one from which to take your post title.

  2. April 18, 2011 8:39 am

    It is a shame that this type of story plays out almost daily…….vets are the forgotten service people…..we support them with slogans and magnets and then let them waste away from neglect…that is an American shame….

  3. James permalink
    May 3, 2011 11:03 pm

    So many people go into the military and are surprised that a soldiers lot is not for everyone. The last place for an idealist is in the Armed Forces. A soldiers job is to do what he is told to do. There is no grand plan for them other than battle plans.

    This is where I see so many of my buddies getting stuck mentally. They join for a career, they join to protect their homeland, they join because Dad was in the military, some even think they can change the world. All good, but the career is more than likely about killing and death – and for what may seem like no good reason at all. You may be protecting your homeland but be 6000 miles from it. Your Dad’s military was a different one to his Dad’s and his Dad before him, change is constant. And a single soldier can make a difference but not change the world.

    Soldiering is about death, tactics, logistics, navigation, survival, comradeship, conflict, good times, bad time, joking around, talking BS and many other things, but it should never be forgotten that your primary role as a soldier is to follow orders and you betters are not going to give you the benefit of detailed explanations of how your part as a soldier fits into the grand scheme of things.

    So maybe the difference between those like my Grandfather, Father and myself who have survived and moved on relatively undamaged was that we all had a very clear understanding that sometimes life is just FUBAR and that is the way it is. Good people get killed, so do bad people. We all make mistakes, and life is a lottery; who knows when we will die and what purpose if any that death will serve? Certainly not me and you that for sure.

    So for what it is worth, if you are sitting there wondering why a good buddy died and not you, maybe it is because you need to do something he could not, maybe his time had come and just maybe it was blind luck that it wasn’t both of you.

    • Heywood Jablome permalink
      May 4, 2011 2:37 pm

      I think that’s a pretty cynical view of this post. Not in a general sense, but in response to this post. I’m not sure your view jives with the sheer number of cases of PTSD, deppression, suicide and other mental disorders that have arisen out of Iraq and Afghanastan. It is higher than we have ever seen before. Something about that environment is damaging some good men and women.

      I also don’t like the idea that the service is not for idealists. If not for those wanting to serve God and country, protect Americans and other pro-democracy peoples around the world, what we would be left with is a force of mercenaries. I don’t think “realist” and “idealist” have to be mutually exclusive.

      I’ve never served, but the blogger has, which you can read in the “About” page.

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