NORTHFIELD — Almost three years since Charles Ingram III took his own life outside the Veterans Community Based Outpatient Clinic, the community came together Saturday to plant 660 flags in remembrance of the veterans who “silently fall” each month.
“I wanted to have the flags up for my husband,” said Billie Ingram, Charles’ widow. “I just thought it would be nice to honor him and all the veterans who have taken their lives.”
Staff of the VA, along with members of the Knights of Columbus and others in the community, planted the flags outside the clinic along with a banner that features the phone number for a veterans crisis hotline. The display is part of Flags for Forgotten Soldiers, a program started by Howard Berry, of Cincinnati, after his son, Staff Sgt. Joshua Berry, died by suicide. The flags will stay up until March 27, when they will be moved to the front of Stockton University’s Campus Center.
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“It’s just to let them see how many veterans take their lives in one month,” Ingram said. “They were ready to put their lives on the line for us.”
Charles Ingram, 51, of Egg Harbor Township, a Navy veteran, died March 21, 2016, by self-immolation outside the Route 9 clinic. It was not open at the time.
Wilmington VA Medical Center Director Vince Kane said the display is a good way to acknowledge the loss of life but also “hopeful,” in that it will spread awareness of veterans’ mental health issues, which often are stigmatized and can lead to those issues going untreated.
“We know when they are connected to care, the risk is decreased,” Kane said. “Having people in treatment makes a huge difference.”
It’s also important to work together as a community to “leverage each other’s strengths,” he said. “If we’re going to successfully help these veterans to be home and be safe, to win this war against suicide, we need everyone working together.”
Cynthia L. Murray, nurse manager at the clinic, echoed Kane’s sentiment, that it will take everyone to help prevent veteran suicides.
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“Those flags out there represent a population whose war did not end,” she said. “It’s tangible, and people can come by and see it.”
The clinic has suicide prevention coordinators to identify risk and connect those who need it with care, as well as outreach coordinators to assist any veteran, Kane said, whether it’s the veteran who calls or their family member.
John De Marco, of the Knights of Columbus, said the flag-planting program has been all through Atlantic County since it started more than a year ago, from churches to local high schools.
“Our purpose is to bring awareness,” he said. “Hopefully, if we can save a few, that’s what we’re trying to do.”