On the morning of Oct. 26, 2009, I set forth on a 7-mile walk, from Menauhant Beach to Falmouth Harbor and back. Halfway through, an unbelievable sadness came over me.
Little would I know that later this day, my life would be changed forever.
At 4 p.m. that afternoon — the exact time my son Eric Jones was killed in a mid-air helicopter crash while on a combat mission in Afghanistan — I was sitting at my computer in my home when I suddenly burst into tears. The knock on the door, the one that every military parent fears, came early the next morning while my husband Ken and I were fast asleep.
Eric was born on April 12, 1980; he died nearly five months shy of turning 30. Every year on his birthday since his passing, I retrace the same steps I took nearly 10 years ago on that sunny October morning.
April 12 was the day I received God’s greatest gift. Oct. 26 was the day that gift became God’s again.
Ken and I chose to celebrate that gift the only way we knew how. We formed Heroes In Transition (HIT), a nonprofit that would honor our son by helping those in the military that didn’t have the support structure Eric had.
More than anything, Eric looked after his fellow Marines like they were his brothers. It is why he became a Huey helicopter pilot; he wanted to provide support to the troops on the ground.
During our last Christmas with Eric, my husband and I confronted him about our care packages we had sent him. Eric had given the items in them to those he was serving with. Why? Because, he told us, they never received anything — calls, letters, care packages — so he shared our love with his Marines.
As the 10-year anniversary of my son’s death approaches, I realize through the work we’re doing at HIT that this love is needed now more than ever.
Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report that at least 60,000 veterans committed suicide between 2008 and 2017. Nearly 6,100 veterans committed suicide in 2017. These numbers are unacceptable.
At HIT’s Fall Couples Retreat last year, several veterans acknowledged they had contemplated suicide. One admitted he had his gun loaded and was prepared to pull the trigger. We were able to eventually help him, providing him with a service dog in 2014 which he says saved his life.
The issues our country’s military, our veterans, and their families face go far beyond suicide. There’s PTSD, depression, and the difficulties of transitioning back into civilian life.
And then there’s deployments. In a 2016 study, the RAND Corporation noted that deployments have “been associated with poorer mental health in military families, behavioral problems in children, a higher risk of divorce, and higher rates of suicide."
Our military — the people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for our country and for their fellow troops — and their families often bear a huge weight on their shoulders that can be crippling.
Heroes In Transition looks to ease those burdens through a range of services that encompass everything from financial support to a canine co-pilot program to a weeklong program held during the summer that allows military families to bond with one another while riding and caring for horses.
Over the past three years, we have held a weekend retreat in which more than two dozen military couples from all over New England come together on Cape Cod to strengthen their relationships with one another.
Last year, one couple arrived as a last-ditch effort, expecting they would file for divorce when the retreat was over. Today, they remain married, raising their children, and regularly attending our monthly outings for couples, spouses, and veterans.
Once, a reporter asked me what the best day of my life was. “The day my son was born because I knew from that point on my life would be filled with love forever,” I answered. Nearly 10 years after my son’s death, I feel that love in every veteran, service member, and military family that Heroes In Transition helps.
Cyndy Jones is the president of the Mashpee, Massachusetts-based nonprofit Heroes In Transition, which she and her late husband Ken founded following the death of their son, U.S. Marine Capt. Eric Jones, in 2009.
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