Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The first of 12 Memorial Day ceremonies, the most of any community in the nation, began at 7:00 a.m. sharp at the Western Montana Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

A World War II veteran laid a wreath at the cemetery and the featured speaker was Anton Johnson, Veterans Outreach Specialist and outgoing commander of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) who is a suicide prevention specialist.

The First Ceremony Addressed the Very Real Problem of Veterans Suicide

“There are so many reasons why I'm standing here before you but the biggest one is suicide prevention,” began Johnson. “We're all here. Susan (Campbell Reneau) started this one years ago to honor those who've taken their lives by suicide. The families had an opportunity to come out here and have this place to themselves to honor those who we've lost.”

Johnson told the sparse crowd gathered at the cemetery that help is available to anyone contemplating suicide, whether or not they are a veteran.

Anton Comforted the Small Crowd with Information about Help to Stop Suicide

“I just really want to come here to let you guys know that there are individuals out there like myself and others who are here for you or for your family members who might need to talk,” he said. “Susan did point out; I'm in the big white van behind you. That's my mobile office and you'll find that pretty much anywhere where I can find veterans are their families, because I want to connect with veterans before it gets to that point. The whole idea of suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death that we see. And it's one of the highest across the nation not just in our veteran population but across our communities.”

Johnson said the risk of suicide is real for the entire population, not just veterans.

“It's very important that we not only are looking to our veterans but looking to the men and women to the left and right of us and understand that it can take anyone, not just veterans, so let's not put our blinders on and just be concerned.” He said. “Let's look out for everyone around us because suicide is an epidemic, and it is affecting everybody's lives. Whether it's someone close to you or someone close to someone you know, but ripples do reach out.”

Following the Playing of 'Taps' Organizers Dashed off to the Next 11 Ceremonies

Campbell Reneau also addressed the issue of suicide.

“Anton is not joking,” she said. “This is nothing to joke about. We have too many precious people in the state of Montana that commit suicide every year. Unfortunately, we are in competition with Alaska the number one state in the United States for the level of suicide for number one, that is not a competition that we want to win. So please reach out to Anton if you are a family member, if you are a loved one, a friend or family member that you know someone that's in the military and get help, and don't be embarrassed.”

Following the brief ceremony, Taps was played and Campbell Reneau and her fellow organizers moved on to the next of 11 more ceremonies that concluded at the University of Montana Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial on the UM campus.

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