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Marine Who Campaigned for Veterans Takes His Own Life

Apr 9, 2011 4:18 PM

Like the Marine he was, Clay Hunt launched a front-line assault against the demons he brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old Texan, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, appeared in a suicide prevention campaign encouraging returning veterans to reach out for help. He went to Washington, D.C., to speak out for veterans' rights.

He also built bikes for a rehabilitation program for injured vets and traveled to disaster-ravaged countries to provide humanitarian aid.

But the Purple Heart recipient, a veteran of two wars, lost his most important battle last week when he died alone, in his apartment near Houston, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His memorial service this week drew more than 1,100 mourners, including veterans from across the country.

"Clay struggled to deal with the war that we all fought. He needed us as much in peace as he did in combat," his best friend, fellow Marine veteran Jake Wood, who delivered the eulogy, wrote on a blog post Thursday.

"Let us learn a hard lesson from this -- that some of us are still fighting the war, even though we're home and out of uniform."

Hunt's family remembered him as a boy who loved to play football, read and collect turtles, the Houston Chronicle reported in a story today. He was about to transfer to his dream school, Texas A&M, when he decided instead to enlist in the Marine Corps infantry in May 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in January 2007.

Within a period of a few weeks, two of Hunt's friends from his company were killed.

Shortly thereafter, Hunt was sent back to the States after a sniper's bullet tore through his left wrist. The shot barely missed his head which, at that moment, was resting on his hand.

"I would've thought you'd feel like the luckiest guy on the Earth that you got shot and they missed your head, but that's not how he felt," his father, Stacy Hunt, told the Chronicle. "He felt he didn't deserve it."

After his rehabilitation, Hunt went to Marine sniper school and was deployed again, this time as a Marine Scout Sniper to Afghanistan. There, two more friends were killed, his parents said.

Hunt left the Marines in 2009, honorably discharged. He put his Purple Heart and other medals along with pictures of his four slain Marine friends in a shadow box, a gift from his mother.

"Every day he looked at that and thought of his guys," his mother told the Chronicle.

As Hunt fell into despair in the months after his discharge, he dropped out of college and his marriage fell apart, the Chronicle reported.

But he found new hope by reaching out to other veterans, appearing in the award-winning public service announcement by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

He helped build bikes for the group Ride 2 Recovery. And he joined the nonprofit group Team Rubicon, formed by Wood, which uses the talents of military veterans to provide humanitarian aid during disasters.

Last February, Hunt went with the group to Haiti and later wrote about his work on the group's website.

"On a personal level, I found more in Port-au-Prince than I knew I was missing," he wrote.

"I cannot tell you how good it feels to be able to go into a rubble-strewn city in a Third World country, and to be able to do good without wondering if everybody is about to start shooting at you. I found a renewed sense of purpose for myself that has been missing since I separated from the USMC, and I found myself in the company of a band of brothers once again -- absolutely priceless."

His family and friends hoped Hunt was finding peace. But on March 31, when he didn't show up for work or answer his phone, his mother drove to his apartment. There, emergency crews found his body.

"I remember sliding down the wall and just sitting there and pressing my back to the wall as hard as I could because I thought this is as close as I'll ever be to him again," she told MyFox Houston.

"I can't hug him. I can't kiss him. I can't say 'I love ya.' I can't touch him again."

His friend Wood described Hunt as a man who wanted to change the world.

"He was always looking for an outlet to help," Wood wrote on the Team Rubicon blog. "The world just didn't want to come along at his pace."