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Remembering A Veteran Who Put Aside His Struggles For Others

At their StoryCorps interview in Las Cruces, N.M., in March 2020, Melanie Dunne, left, and Marissa Miranda remembered the late Cpl. Josh Dunne.
Zazil Davis-Vazquez for StoryCorps
At their StoryCorps interview in Las Cruces, N.M., in March 2020, Melanie Dunne, left, and Marissa Miranda remembered the late Cpl. Josh Dunne.

Josh Dunne was a Marine for five years, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq before being honorably discharged in 2005.

But for years afterward, he struggled with a service-related traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD.

He died in 2016 at age 36.

His wife, Melanie Dunne, and her sister, Marissa Miranda, remembered him during a StoryCorps interview in March 2020. They described Josh as an uplifting and outgoing presence to all around him.

"I don't even consider him like a brother in law. He was my brother," Marissa said. "When you were having the most serious conversation with him, he always found a way to just say something really stupid, but then laugh. And he'd give you a hug and say, 'I love you.' "

That's also the kind of person he was to his fellow service members, Melanie said.

"We knew he loved helping other veterans and, you know, he was always encouraging veterans to go back to school to keep up their education. Even when they wanted to give up, he was right there saying, 'Let's go have lunch,' and doing whatever he could."

Josh had worked hard to become a social worker when he got back from deployment, she said. She and her husband graduated from the same program together.

The morning of graduation, she recalled, "he was prancing around through the house with his cap and gown on."

"He was so nervous because his PTSD and anxiety and fear was like, this is a large group of people, this is a stadium. But he was like, 'I can do this,' " Melanie said.

The more nervous he was, the more boisterous he got, said Marissa.

"Then all of a sudden, I'm walking across the stage, I'm shaking the dean's hand and all I hear is, 'That's my wife!' "

"He was very proud that day," her sister said. "It was a very happy day for him. But he was living with his inner struggles, and put those aside for everybody else."

But his inner struggles continued.

In 2016, Josh intended to end his life in a hotel near his home in Las Cruces, N.M. His wife called the police, and after several hours of negotiation, Josh emerged from the hotel room with a gun. He was then shot and killed by the responding officers.

Melanie remembered a long line of people coming up to her on the day of Josh's funeral: "People saying that, 'I'm a veteran, I was suicidal and Josh talked me into living.' And I just thought, gosh, he was that person for not just our family, but for everyone he came in contact with."

The grief is still with her. But the veteran community, she said, is what gives her strength.

"In the moments when I am like, I could probably lose it today and just never recover, what comes to mind is like ... you're the wife of a Marine, get it together," she said. "And I would think, a whole group of veterans is mourning with me right now. And that has pulled me through, knowing that I'm not the only one who lost him."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Jarrod Sport. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jarrod Sport