Injured Wilmington Veteran Finds Unexpected Support
Craig Sullivan said he believes fate brought him to a friendship with fellow veteran Adam Smith and to support from a Wakefield couple whose veteran son took his own life.
Craig Sullivan, Adam Smith and Dave and Barbara Hoffman come from different walks of life, but they have one thing in common. They firmly believe in fate.
Sullivan, a young Wilmington veteran who was seriously injured during duty in Iraq, met Smith, a Marine from Amesbury, when each was at the VA Clinic for their respective check up.
After some conversation, it became clear to both how their friendship was meant to be. Sullivan told Smith his story, and lifted his shirt to reveal a large tattoo honoring two fallen soldiers that he served with who lost their lives on August 16, 2006.
When Smith saw his fellow Marine’s touching tribute, his jaw nearly hit the floor. The date of August 16 is a familiar one for Smith. It’s his birthday.
“We met for some reason,” said Smith. “I’m not sure what it is yet, but it was definitely meant to be.”
The pair stayed in touch following their chance encounter, and on Thursday Smith gave Sullivan a ride to the office of Wilmington Veteran’s Agent Lou Cimaglia. That’s where Sullivan had an appointment to meet Dave and Barbara Hoffman, of Wakefield.
About two years ago, Dave and Barbara suffered tragedy of their own when the couple’s son Jon, also a United States veteran, committed suicide.
At Jon’s funeral, the family opted to ask for donations to a fund for a member of the armed forces in need in lieu of flowers. That’s what brought the Hoffmans to meet Sullivan, who the couple selected as the recipient of the funds.
“When you’re giving, you feel better,” said Barbara. “Jon would have really loved this idea. He had a very kind, soft heart. He definitely would have appreciated seeing this.”
So Thursday afternoon, Dave and Barbara sat with two men they hadn’t met until that day, talking for hours about life as a Marine, religion, and just about anything that came to their mind. It was as if they’d known each other for decades.
Sullivan shared the story about the day the Humvee he was driving in hit a roadside bomb and exploded, lodging shrapnel into his side. That same shrapnel still impacted his life years later when it turned into a tumor that forced him to lose about one quarter of his lung during a surgery.
Smith recalled the moment he found religion, standing in a doorway in Iraq while countless grenades were hurled his way. The Amesbury resident remembers standing in the enclosed area, waiting for one of the grenades to explode. That moment never came.
Barbara talked about just what made Jon such a special son. Dave remembered the days following Jon's death when he didn't sleep a wink. It hasn't been an easy two years for either Barbara or Dave, but they aren't private about their struggle.
"Our family’s mission is to help survivors of suicide because there is not a lot of help for those left behind," said Barbara.
The couple uses the experience to help talk with others who may be dealing with similar issues, working with veterans and their families in the area.
“I miss Jon. I miss him horribly. But just like what you went through changed your lives, what happened to us changed my life,” Dave said during the conversation. “I know he’s smiling somewhere.”
Sullivan said that when he completed his first tour in Iraq, he went on with his life as normal. But the day he suffered his injuries, everything changed. But rather than face his challenges alone, Sullivan said it’s meetings like the one on Thursday that help him realize the importance of talking with others.
“At first, I didn’t want to face my injuries. I didn’t want to face my depression. I just wanted to hide,” said Sullivan. “But I know now that you have to deal with things up front, and really face those issues head on.”
While the group sat in a circle sharing their stories, Wilmington Veterans’ Agent Lou Cimaglia sat near his desk amazed, taking it all in.
“What’s happening right now is why I do my job,” said Cimaglia. “This is why I love what I do.”