After being deployed three times, once to Iraq, our son, USMC Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward died by suicide on June 13, 2009. You hear a great deal about men returning with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), but also many men carry ‘moral injuries ‘ which war can bring. Clay suffered from the injuries to his soul.
As Clay’s Mom (Debbie Ward), I became friends with many of his Marine brothers. They and their families have blessed ours tremendously! Some of these men contacted me in 2014 with a plan to come to town in 2015 and run 6 miles in memory of the 6th anniversary of Clay’s death. The Red Barn is a big part of our family, so when I bounced ideas off the staff, Joy O’Neal offered to host the run through The Red Barn. Needless to say, I was delighted!! The Take the Reins Run has now become an annual event; this year our 4th!
The run has been such a healing time for all of us, our family as well as his Marine brothers.
Each year we’ve had 20-35 Marines (counting family members). It is amazing to see many men return every year. You may think that this would be a sad time, but not so. We remember all the good times (and do they have stories!), celebrate Clay’s by living in the moment of the reunion. Great healing has taken place through various things we do, including our annual trip to the Red Barn. They don’t want to leave!
I am often asked how the Run has helped us or Clay’s Marine brothers heal. After Clay’s death, we found The Red Barn. Our daughter, Abi, Clay’s sister, began to participate in many of the programs offered by the barn. As a family, we integrated ourselves into many aspects of the barn. While our hearts will always be wounded, we began to heal.
As for the Marines, I think one of Clay’s Marine brothers, Joseph, says it well. Joseph’s note from 2017:
“Last weekend was such a spectacular time which lasted as quick as a blink of an eye. We gathered from across the nation once again to remember our brother who left us way too soon from his PTSD wound, Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward. Not only does this bring awareness outside the military/veteran community but his memory lives on through us. Each gathering has been helpful for many of us to cope and heal in our own way and helped enable us to share our experiences with others, which is the most difficult thing to do. With each gathering, our bond/brotherhood grows stronger and so does Clay’s memory. Momma Ward, Allan, and Abi, you have opened your home to us strangers and embraced us into your heart as family with such love and kindness that is insurmountable. Thank you! As Allan said after the run, “It’s now tradition” which means more participants will arrive and so will more veterans who knew Clay. Looking forward to creating more memories next year with all of you amazing people. Love you all and Semper Fidelis Joseph Mitjavila Los Angeles, CA”
Get ready, THE MARINES ARE COMING! Please come out to greet them and thank them for their service! Give them a warm Alabama welcome!