© Elizabeth Harrington
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Dar Place was two feet away when his friend and fellow soldier took his own life during the Gulf War. Two decades later, like so many other veterans, Place is still haunted by the plague of suicide in the military.
"I personally saw my driver after Desert Storm in his tank put a gun underneath his mouth and pull the trigger, while I was no further away from him than I am from you right now," Place told the Washington Free Beacon
at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. He was one of the dozens of activists with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) who planted thousands of flags to honor veterans who had killed themselves.
By noon, 1,892 American flags graced the Mall, representing the number of veterans who have taken their life this year alone since January 1st - an average of 22 per day.
Former soldiers and survivors gathered to raise awareness about the epidemic, and lobby Capitol Hill to pass a bill addressing gaps in mental health.
The message of the campaign is "We've Got Your Back," and for Place, serving in the Army is a "family business."
"My son is still in active duty, he's been an infantryman," he said. "I was in the 101st Airborne Division, he was in the 82nd Airborne Division, and just like his old man was when I was a young enlisted man, he kind of followed in my footsteps."
"I served in the 82nd in Desert Storm," Place said. "So twice, I was on the initial invasion into Iraq, and then later on he came in to Iraq as I was coming out. And then he went on to the 82nd Airborne, and he went into Afghanistan as my unit prepared to relieve his unit in place in Afghanistan."
Place retired in November. He is working with IAVA to help his fellow veterans get the help they need.