May is Mental Health Awareness Month and from someone who has suffered from a Traumatic Brain Injury since my near fatal bicycle accident nearly 27 years ago, I have seen first-hand the struggles many in our community have had with brain injuries, mental illnesses, PTSD, depression, anxiety and ultimately, suicide. Unfortunately, I have also seen first-hand the horrible stigmas associated with mental illnesses and that is why ending that stigma is one of my life goals.
Over a year ago, when I was a member of the Naval & Military Park’s Board of Directors, I was the keynote speaker at the annual Mason’s Interfaith breakfast with the members of the WNY Masonic Lodges. I was invited by my good friend and fellow book publisher, Dr. Mark Donnelly, a member of Harmonie Lodge No. 699 O.M.
During breakfast, Mark spoke about one of their Masonic brothers who took his life while battling depression and post-traumatic stress after three deployments in Afghanistan. Mark said a goal of his fellow Masonic brothers was to create an awareness of this horrible mental illness and the consequences of suicide among our veterans. He said the awareness must be made bigger than life and for the entire region to see.
He then proposed a unique memorial and the result is Dr. Donnelly’s elegantly subtle design titled “The Battle Within Memorial” which is a life size silhouette of a soldier carrying two figures. The over 8,000 pound steel monument honoring the more than 20 veterans who die each day from PTSD, is cut from 2-inch thick Cor-Ten steel with a stainless steel inscription that boldly reads: “A tribute to those we will always carry, and to those we can no longer hold.”
Completed in just two months to the date from their original March 21 groundbreaking ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, this has been a tightly coordinated effort between General Welding and Fabrication, Lehigh Construction, Upstate Rebar, LaFarge Concrete, and CJR Machining. The over 8,000 pound steel monument was installed at the park on Tuesday.
“This simple, yet powerful memorial’s aim is to educate the public to this ongoing tragedy, provide a lifeline to the suffering, and honor our heroes for their service, regardless of where they died,” Dr. Donnelly explained. “Once the monument is installed, the ongoing mission of The Battle Within Foundation will be to fund and connect veterans with the care they richly deserve.”
The Battle Within Monument will be located on the beautifully manicured Heroes Walk at the Naval & Military Park between the Afghanistan and Vietnam Memorials. It will formally be unveiled on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 at 10:30 a.m. after a military service on the fantail of the USS Little Rock honoring the approximately 7,300 veterans who have lost their lives this year to PTSD. The Buffalo Niagara Concert Band will perform from 10-10:30 a.m. and 11:30-noon. This is a free event and open to the public who are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. For more information, visit www.thebattlewithinfoundation.com.