According to Todmorden Legion Branch 10 president PJ O’Neill, veterans aren’t just people who have worked for the military.
“Veterans can be in any service,” he said. “You can have veterans anywhere.”
On Sept. 23, the Todmorden Legion held its third annual Heroes of Suicide march and vigil. In past years, the event was held to honour soldiers who died of suicide, but this year it was expanded to include first responders as well.
“They’re out there serving their country and their community constantly,” O’Neill said.
The ceremony started with a march down Gamble and Pape avenues that ended in front of the Todmorden Legion. Members of different branches of the military and first responders lit candles in memory of those who died of suicide.
Among the veterans who attended the ceremony was retired Sgt. Bruce Kaysmith, who served for the Canadian military for 25 years, including a deployment in Kuwait.
After serving in Kuwait for nine months, Kaysmith came back to Canada. Shortly after that, two of his friends who served with him died of suicide.
“Personally, I felt very, very much on a low for months until I could start getting back to the normal situation,” Kaysmith said. “You’re almost thinking yourself, maybe I shouldn’t be here either.”
He appreciates the march and vigil because, although it’s sombre, people have a chance to connect with others who have gone through similar situations.
“It’s a social event where everyone can talk to each other and raise your morale a little bit,” Kaysmith said.
O’Neill thinks it’s important for the legion, as a community organization, to show it’s there to help anyone going through a tough situation.
“Old, young, the issues are the same. You have to help people,” he said. “And being a community organization, thats what we hope to do.”
Kaysmith said mental health issues such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) have gained greater acceptance over the years, starting when he was still in the military himself.
“I retired in 1992. I’d say the last 10-15 years before I retired it became more prominent,” he said. “They knew how to deal with it, and they started to deal with it.”