Ground is broken on memorial honoring military's mental health casualties

Mar 21, 2019

The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is home to numerous monuments which honor the men and women who served and died in various conflucts throughout the nation's history. Ground was broken at the park Thursday morning for a future memorial which will remember those who died from a different battle: depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The new monument, known as the Battle Within Memorial, is scheduled to be erected and unveiled on May 27. Ground was broken on the spot where it will be located, between the Afghanistan and Vietnam Memorials along the Heroes Walk portion of the park.

A rendering of the planned Battle Within Monument scheduled to be erected along Heroes Walk in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Ground was broken Thursday for the monument, which is scheduled to be in place by Memorial Day.
Credit provided by Battle Within Foundation

The forthcoming piece will be a steel structure, measuring approximately eight feet tall by five feet wide, portraying one soldier carrying another. The soldier carried will be an empty outline of that body. Paul Marzello, the park's president and chief executive officer, says the metal structure will be unique among the other stone memorials nearby.

"It's a compelling piece of steel, I might add, because the way the architecture or the design of this is that you'll be able to peer through it," he said. "By looking through it you'll be able to look, as you see through it, someone's soul, that there's something deeper and more meaningful to this piece of architecture."

The monument will serve as a reminder of the veterans who succumb to mental illnesses related to their military experience, including PTSD.

"It is our sincerest hope that this monument will in some way help build public awareness of this ongoing tragedy, provide a lifeline for the suffering and honors our heroes for their service, no matter where they died," said Dr. Mark Donnelly, president of the Battle Within Foundation, which is leading the project.

In 2012, the US Department of Veteran Affairs released a report suggesting 22 veterans die from suicides  daily. Last year, the military publication Stars and Stripes reported the number was revised to "approximately 20" per day including three active service members.

The Battle Within Foundation was formed by the Harmonie Lodge No. 699 OM, a Masonic temple located in Amherst. Its mission, it was explained, is to support awareness efforts and connect veterans with medical care.

It's also personal to the Masons. One of their own is among the countless veterans who have ended their own lives after struggling with PTSD. For them, the monument will serve as a tribute to Army National Guard Captain Peter Schack, an Afghanistan veteran of several tours. He died by suicide on February 17, 2017.

"Peter was my brother in more than one way," said Daniel DiNatale, Foundation Secretary. "I knew Captain Schank since he was about 12 years old."

DiNatale continued a story of Schank's initiation into the Masons, including a part of the ceremony in which the lights are turned out. When the lights are turned on, the newly-installed Mason sees his peers.

"When that happened, he was surrounded by brothers and friends that he had known for years," DiNatale said. "After that, he told me it was like coming home. That story is the same, time and time again, for men that are brought through our fraternity."

But those suffering war-related PTSD often find themselves alienated from those friends and brothers who did not endure combat experiences. That alienation often includes a refusal to come forward and seek help. The Battle Within project hopes they can convince at least some to come forward and ask.

"We hope that we can save just a few of them and bring awareness to this ongoing problem that isn't getting better - it's getting worse - and start to destigmatize that community, the feelings that lead them to not seek help or not accept help," said William Chapin, Foundation Treasurer.

This is one of two pending new memorials in the works at the Naval and Military Park. Funds are still being raised to complete construction of an African-American Veterans Monument elsewhere in the park. Planners are hoping to complete that project by this coming Veterans Day.