Why this vet travels across the US to pay respects to fallen soldiers

DENVER - In the solemn setting of the Fort Logan National Cemetery, Lon Hodge and his dog Gander pay respects like they have so many times before.

"This is a real privilege and a real honor for us," Hodge said.

They have traveled to 39 states to play Taps on his bugle and read the names of 22 veterans who died by suicide. Hodge reads 22 names for a sad, specific reason.

"As best we know, 22 veterans take their lives every day," Hodge said. "I've said that most of us with severe anxiety disorder and PTSD, we carry suicide in our pocket. You know, like a coin we can cash in."

Hodge lived in that dark place until he met Gander.

"The line everybody uses is Gander knows. Gander knows," Hodge said.

The bugler and his dog travel to cemeteries around the country as part of a campaign they call Fetch 22. The Pueblo native wants to spread the idea that veterans can be 'brought back' through service dogs.

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"He has some kind of special draw. The four months I was with him, I didn't want to be around people and this dog drew people like flies," Hodge said.

Hodge says that's when Gander started to heal him.

"Now, I have to be responsible for somebody or something else besides the craziness inside my head," Hodge said.

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Their mission is a possible remedy and a call to action.

"The more we talk about suicide, the more we normalize the speaking of the word suicide, I think the more people are going to reach out and ask for help," Hodge said.

So, they will keep visiting cemeteries to keep playing taps and to keep reading names.

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"They were victims of home front wars and should be remembered as such," Hodge said.

He will keep doing this with hopes that someday, he won't have to.

"We pull back 22 names every day and hopefully to signal to people, we want to see that number decrease over time," Hodge said.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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