Father, friend of fallen veteran work tirelessly to bring awareness to veteran suicide

Posted at 12:25 AM, May 12, 2017

CRESCENT SPRINGS, Ky. -- Sergeant Shawn Edmison and Staff Sergeant Josh Berry were natural friends when they met at Fort Knox: Both Greater Cincinnati natives far from home, they bonded over Berry's Bengals jersey and shared homesickness as they served in the United States Army.

Staff Sgt. Josh Berry meets President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy of Howard Berry.

Berry would go on to survive the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and then a tour of duty abroad, but when he came home, Edmison said, he had changed. Like many veterans, Berry had developed post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition characterized by debilitating anxiety and flashbacks to his traumatic experiences in the armed forces.

The Fort Hood shooting -- the moment when a safe place became unsafe and a commanding officer became an attacker -- ranked prominently among them. 

Edmison did what he could to help his friend.

"All he wanted was someone just to sit there on his couch and watch the door and make sure nobody came in," Edmison said.

It wasn't enough.

Edmison was a devoted friend, but he wasn't a doctor. Berry's father, Howard, said negligence by the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center kept Josh from receiving the medical care he needed after returning home, and his psychological state continued to deteriorate untreated.

In February 2013, Josh Berry, who had survived in one of the most dangerous places on Earth, took his own life in Sycamore Township, Ohio. He was 36 years old.

Staff Sgt. Josh Berry's headstone. Berry killed himself after a protracted struggle with PTSD, according to his father. Photo courtesy of Howard Berry.

Edmison is still trying to help him.

Howard Berry and Edmison have made it their mission to plant 660 American flags on hillsides around the Greater Cincinnati area in order to remind passersby of the grim order to which Joshua Berry now belongs: The 660 veterans who take their own lives each month. The display in Crescent Springs sits under a banner describing its purpose, and the sheer scale of lost life still amazes even Edmison.

"You think about for each one of these (cases), in the fight for their life these guys wouldn't give up," Edmison said. "What would make somebody feel so alone after all that?"

Howard Berry said he hopes the display can inspire counterparts across the country. He would be sending flags later in the week to other veterans' families in North Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland and Iowa, and he'll continue maintaining the displays in and around Cincinnati.

"Every one that I put in is for Josh," he said.

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling with depression, PTSD, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, help is available 24 hours a day. The Veteran Crisis Line provides round-the-clock help for veterans and their families at 1-800-273-8255. 

If you would rather text for help than call, a texting service is available at 838255.