One Marine's Journey: War, Activism, Then Tragedy Clay W. Hunt, 28, a decorated combat veteran in both Iraq and Afghanistan and an advocate for combat troops suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, killed himself in his apartment outside Houston last month.
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One Marine's Journey: War, Activism, Then Tragedy

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One Marine's Journey: War, Activism, Then Tragedy

One Marine's Journey: War, Activism, Then Tragedy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We're going to take time now to remember a Marine. Clay W. Hunt was a decorated combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. After returning home, Hunt became an advocate for troops suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He dealt with both himself.

Clay Hunt was moving forward with his life until he killed himself late last month.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has his story.

WADE GOODWYN: Clay Hunt was the quintessential Texas kid growing up in Houston. He was a good athlete, competitive, and friendly and nice-looking - the girls liked him.

Susan Selke is Clay Hunt's mother.

Ms. SUSAN SELKE: He just loved the outdoors. He was a team sport kind of guy. He much preferred to be on a football team or a baseball team.

GOODWYN: After high school, Hunt went to college. But halfway through he decided he wanted to be a Marine. He tested so well, the Marines wanted him to be an officer, but Hunt said no. He wanted to be on the team. He was infantry and happy.

Ms. SELKE: When he joined the Marines, I remember being very nervous and I said, Clay, they'll send you to Iraq. And he said, I know.

GOODWYN: Hunt was sent to Iraq, into the maw of Fallujah in 2007. In the first few weeks, his good friend and bunkmate, Blake Howey, was killed by a roadside bomb. Four weeks later, his mother says, he watched a second friend die two feet from him.

Ms. SELKE: Clay was driving a Humvee and this young man, Nathan Windsor, was walking along kind of to the side talking to Clay. And a sniper just shot him through the throat.

GOODWYN: The patrol was pinned down by sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Nathan Windsor died on a Medevac helicopter; there was no saving him. When Hunt next talked to his parents, he was changed.

Ms. SELKE: Was very distraught that he couldn't get out of the Humvee to help, as he said, my man. He was very shaken and, you know, it was obvious that the innocence was gone.

GOODWYN: Three weeks later, Hunt was on foot patrol as they moved through the city. He had his weapon to his shoulder, his chin on his hand as he sighted down the barrel. He took a sniper round through the wrist, two inches from his face.

While recovering, Hunt was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and given medication. He remained undaunted. He went to Scout Sniper School, one of the most demanding training regimens the Marines offer and he was sent to Southern Afghanistan, the Sangin district. Jake Wood was Hunt's fellow sniper and his best friend.

Mr. JAKE WOOD: We were the first American units deployed to the Helmand Valley. We were there without air support, without tanks, without artillery. And, you know, we were surrounded by Taliban.

GOODWYN: Clay Hunt told his family that it was a, quote, nasty tour, full of death. After finishing, he left the Marines decorated and honorably discharged.

Back in Texas, Hunt had trouble sleeping, and he struggled with depression. A couple of times, he had panic attacks in public. Hunt had been taught by the Marines that he had no reason to feel ashamed of his PTSD, and he wasn't ashamed. He was well aware there were plenty of returning combat vets suffering just like him.

He even appeared in a video made by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. CLAY HUNT (Veterans Advocate): Coming home can be hard if you're a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. You may feel like you're all alone. But you're not alone.

GOODWYN: But his PTSD symptoms were unrelenting. Hunt seemed down but not out. His two-year marriage ended in divorce. He left college. But by this spring, he'd found a job he liked, he'd gotten an apartment, and in late March he bought a new pick-up. Friends and family thought he was doing okay. And then suddenly, he went silent, no return calls, no text messages for two days.

Ms. SELKE: We knew something was wrong. Just - his dad and I both had a gut feeling something was wrong, and it was.

GOODWYN: Twenty-eight-year-old Clay Hunt had shot himself in his apartment. His best friend and fellow sniper Jake Wood.

Mr. WOOD: I was surprised but not shocked.

GOODWYN: Clay Hunt's parents don't blame the V.A. or the Marines for their son's suicide. But Wood says the federal government isn't doing enough.

Mr. WOOD: I think our government needs to, you know, re-evaluate, you know, what they're doing when they make warriors with such ease and send them to combat zones and then really don't have a plan for transitioning them when they come. I think there needs to be a discussion at, you know, the top levels of government to figure out what the solution is to this problem.

GOODWYN: Susan Selke, Clay's mother, has many strong feelings about what happened to her son. Mostly, she is so proud of him.

Ms. SELKE: We choose to look at it that he is now in a very peaceful state, in a very peaceful place, and we're very thankful for that. And we're going to miss him terribly.

GOODWYN: Clay Hunt was cremated, and his ashes will be spread on his grandparents' ranch in East Texas, where he loved to fish and hunt when he was growing up.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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