Clay Hunt was a hometown boy, though many in our small town probably don’t even realize it. We know he was a brave young man. We know he was a sensitive, gentle soul who yearned to heal a broken world and restore the lives of so many lost before their time.
Last week, from the East Room of our nation’s White House, Clay’s mother was embraced by President Barack Obama after the signing of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act.
Clay’s mother, Susan Selke, is Susan Knotts to her hometown Huntsville family, the daughter of prominent parents Bill and Muriel Knotts. A graduate of Huntsville High School and the University of Texas, Susan and Clay’s stepfather, Richard Selke, teamed up with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and started a campaign for meaningful help with our returning veterans so many of whom suffered debilitating issues when they returned from service to our country.
When Clay returned home he was not well. He knew it and they knew it. He tried. He sought help. He did what he was told.
At his death, he was waiting for help through the Veterans’ Administration. He had done all he could do.
I had first known about the beautiful, courageous young war hero when his death was reported back in 2011. He was a painfully beautiful boy whose mother had watched him go and return a hero. She had watched his unequalled efforts to help others whether through aid to the earthquake-stricken people of Haiti with Team Rubicon or other efforts encouraging other veterans who were suffering.
According to a television report on Houston’s Channel 26, Clay said his work in Haiti was the most rewarding, because of the need and his personal sense of purpose.
Clay died at his own hand in 2011 after deploying to Iraq in 2007, and Afghanistan in 2008, narrowly escaping death in combat. After leaving his beloved Marine Corps in 2009, Clay struggled with post-traumatic stress and reintegrating into civilian life.
Susan was every bit the warrior that her son was. She would not let go the urgent need to work for a solution to the problems of our American heroes who came home after serving us — with an equal need of healing. Time and time again, we were faced with the clear evidence that our services promised to them was not forthcoming.
Even as the Department of Veterans Affairs told us that as many as 22 veterans commit suicide each day, we did, at best, little. We whined about the Veterans’ Hospital inadequacies, gave lip service to the disgrace of Congress and their in-fighting and ineffective efforts.
While the majority of Americans saw a problem, and did little to help, Susan, her husband and the IAVA fought the fight. They lobbied. They met with lawmakers. They kept their son and his cause in the minds and consciences until last week happened.
I have had family members and friends die on the foreign fields of battle, and I have had them serve and come home with the haunting eyes of men who have seen too much, lived with guilt and grief, and asked no more than that they receive help when they ask.
Clay didn’t get the help he needed after he came home. He didn’t understand why, after giving so much that our country didn’t live up to its promise.
His mother fought the good fight for her child — a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew and friend who gave all.
She is to be treasured.
He is a hero.