About a month before he died, Josh Dunne, his father and brothers-in-law went on a hunting trip. Before returning to Las Cruces, they stopped at a Silver City restaurant run by a relative. There, Dunne met a fellow veteran and made friendly conversation with him.
Unbeknownst to the veteran, Dunne paid for his breakfast before leaving. When told about Dunne’s generosity, the veteran broke down in tears: because of post-traumatic stress disorder, he had fallen on hard times, and Dunne’s act of kindness came at a time when the veteran needed it the most.
Dunne, who also suffered from PTSD, died last year during a crisis situation with first responders on Dec. 2 in Las Cruces.
His wife, Melanie, and brother, Jonah, are honoring Josh Dunne’s memory and generosity with a scholarship at New Mexico State University, where Josh Dunne was a graduate student studying social work at the time of his death. Dunne was also president of the NMSU Student Veterans Organization, working closely with veterans who also suffered from PTSD to help them transition into university life, and with homeless veterans in need of help.
“Josh was so vibrant and full of energy, and he loved to make people laugh, even at his own expense,” Melanie Dunne said. “He was smart, intelligent and super involved as a dad. There’s still people who I’ve never met coming up to me telling me how he helped them in some way. He never talked about that stuff.”
Josh Dunne was originally from Roswell, N.M., and enlisted in the Marines after graduating high school in 2000. He was one of the top six Marine graduates from more than 500 recruits. He served for five years as a Crew Chief, and specialized as an aircraft communications, navigation and electrical systems technician of the Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion. He bravely fought in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and was involved in the Second Battle of Fallujah in late 2004. He was also involved in a horrific helicopter crash that took the lives of his staff sergeant and several fellow Marines, and tried desperately to save them even in the face of enemy fire. Dunne himself was injured as a result of the crash.
Dunne was honorably discharged from Marine Corps in 2005, but for more than a year, kept the dog tags of those who died in the helicopter crash at his bedside. After being discharged, Dunne moved in with his brother, Jonah, who witnessed several of his older brother’s PTSD episodes. But Dunne was open about his struggles with PTSD, talking frequently about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also had the help of a service dog, Sawyer, who continues to live with Melanie Dunne and their children, Isabella and Johnathan.
“He helped a lot of veterans who were debating whether or not to go back to school,” Jonah Dunne said. “He would hand out his personal number and make himself available in order to help them.”
After Josh Dunne’s death, Melanie Dunne created The Josh Dunne Organization, of which Jonah Dunne is also a board member. The main mission of the organization is to reduce the stigma of PTSD and help veterans and their families find support. The organization is also raising funds for the Josh Dunne Memorial Endowed Scholarship, which will benefit veterans or their dependents who are attending NMSU and majoring in a social service field, such as social work or criminal justice.
“In his mind, he thought the only way we could deal with (PTSD) is to talk about it,” Melanie Dunne said. “He talked about it with other veterans, but his everyday struggle with PTSD was a whole other issue. With all of our friends, he masked it, but with our family, we knew that struggle, seeing the waves of depression, the times he would crawl into this dark hole.”
Through her tears, Melanie Dunne described crawling into that dark emotional hole with her husband, much like many other spouses of veterans with PTSD. Their only hope, Melanie said, is making it back out of the hole alive with their spouse.
“I thought we had made it out,” she said, reflecting back to the day her husband died. “I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t questions ourselves. I think I’ve exhausted all the ‘what ifs,’ and at the end of the day, continuing Josh’s legacy is what keeps my mind off of that.”
To invest in veterans and contribute to the Josh Dunne Memorial Endowed Scholarship, visit https://makeastatement.nmsu.
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