About two dozen people were in the parking lot of the Roseville library on Saturday for a small but significant tribute. A flagpole was being dedicated to Army Sgt. Benjamin Miller, who died in 2008 during his second tour of duty in Iraq.
As little as a year ago, the ceremony might never have happened. The 24-year-old Miller killed himself while home on leave, part of a growing number of suicides of active-duty service members that the Pentagon has only recently acknowledged.
After Ben died, his mother, Mary Clare Lindberg, stopped at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Ben was stationed with the 101st Airborne. She wanted to take some pictures and see the tribute wall on base where the names of all the fallen are listed. Because of the circumstances of Ben's death, she was told his name was not on the wall. Mary Clare began a campaign to change the attitudes about military suicides that extended to the flagpole and the ceremony at the library, where she used to take Ben for children's reading hour.
The pole was provided by a group called Flags for Fallen Military, which installs flagpoles and provides flags to families of members of the fallen. Ben's former platoon leader flew in from Chicago. Members of the Minnesota Patriot Guard held flags around the parking lot in silent tribute. The Minnesota chapter of a group called Honor and Remember presented a special flag to serve as a reminder of those who have lost their lives.
Last week it was announced that active-duty suicides in the Army more than doubled in July from June. The Army recorded 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers for the first seven months of 2012. If that pace continues, suicides would total 200 this year, compared with 167 for 2011. To its credit, the Army is the only branch of the military that issues a monthly press release on suicides.
Ben's story was part of a series the Star Tribune did last year that looked at military suicides. When we traveled to the base at Fort Campbell last year, we stopped at the wall of fallen heroes. Ben's name had been put on it.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434