ASHLAND — For Andrew Schwan, raising awareness for veteran suicide has always been important.
Schwan, a former active duty Marine and current member of the U.S. Navy, said he once saved a fellow Marine in the barracks. The Marine had tried to take his own life. Schwan found him and got him help, and today, the Marine is still alive, Schwan said.
But that experience stuck, and it’s why Schwan participated in a “Silent Watch” on Sunday.
Twenty-two photo frames with photos of veterans who’d taken their own lives sat around the Ashland County Veterans Memorial. The number is meant to signify the amount of veterans each day who lose their lives to suicide. According to a 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, that number was at 16.8 per day in 2020.
An empty casket with an American flag draped over it stood in the memorial’s center.
Two or more people stood silently at either end of the casket, switching out every 15-20 minutes throughout the day.
A tent with people giving information about the event stood just up the hill to explain to passersby what was going on. When people stand by the casket, they don’t speak. At the tent, some people shared their stories with each other.
Families — including Schwan’s — along with veterans in their uniforms, participants in Sunday’s Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk and people driving by all took shifts.
“This is a powerful statement,” Schwan said.
These “Silent Watches” took place in many area counties over the last few weeks. A nonprofit group with the same name organized them.
Silent Watch’s goal is to bring awareness to the issue of veteran suicide. The group has hosted these events since 2019. Its goal is to bring the events to every county across the state.
It also raises money to help veterans receive Stellate Ganglion Block, a treatment long used for chronic pain and that’s being studied for post traumatic stress disorder.
Tim Chandler, the nonprofit’s president and founder, said Sunday’s event stayed busy. People stopped by for information on what the event was about and made donations. Donations go toward sending veterans to receive Stellate Ganglion Block treatment.
The “Silent Watch” went from around 9 a.m. until about 5:30 p.m. It finished with Schwan playing “Taps” and an honor guard procession before packing the photo frames, flag and casket.
Chandler said it was a good day.
“We had a good turnout,” he said. “We met a lot of people and got to give out a lot of information.”
Schwan switched out uniforms throughout the day, and his daughters, 10-year-old Adalynn and 8-year-old Emerson, each took turns standing with their dad.
Rachel Schwan, Andrew’s wife, said it was important that her children stood with their dad.
“It humbles me that at this young age, they understand the significance,” Rachel said.
Andrew hopes taking a turn in the “Silent Watches” means his daughters will spend their whole lives giving back and raising awareness for veteran suicide.
Adalynn said she thinks highly of the chance to participate in the event. She just started learning to play the trumpet, and hopes to play “Taps” in high school.
Andrew encouraged people to check in on the veterans in their lives.
“Watch out for all the veterans you know,” he said. “You never know when they’ve had bad thoughts, and sometimes, someone to talk to is all you need.”
If you are in crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. For the veterans crisis line, press 1 after being connected. To be connected with resources in your community, you can dial 211.
This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.