BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — Matthew Patton was only a few months from coming home, but he didn’t make it.
His mother Lynn perceived the end was coming, but couldn’t stop it.
“A smiling face does not mean that someone’s happy,” she said at a recent fundraiser for The Matthew Patton Foundation. “You can hide turmoil. When he died, people were shocked.”
Her son’s body arrived in Rhode Island under a flag-draped coffin but there was no 21-gun salute. No hero’s welcome.
The Bristol native was a statistic, and his mom would become determined to make sure his death meant more than that.
“People could not believe it because he was the one everyone went to,” she said. “He was the strong one.”
The fundraiser was inspired, and interrupted, by a workout of sorts that is pushing itself across the country.
The organization 22 Kill is raising money and awareness about suicide and other issues that veterans and active duty personnel face.
The goal: Motivate thousands of people to do 22 million push-ups on video in sets of 22 for 22 days straight. Then, they’re advised to post their efforts on social media.
Heather Viveiros led the charge in Bristol with Lynn Patton taking part in the exercise.
“We’re doing these push-ups,” Viveiros yelled, before starting the count. “For all the men and women who have ultimately taken their lives due to the invisible wounds of war.”
Twenty-two is the estimated number of veterans and active duty members who take their lives every day.
Patton’s son had dealt with mental illness before. When he told his mom he wanted to join the Army, her concerns were trumped by skepticism.
“I let him go through the process thinking they’re not going to take him,” she said. “They did.”
That was 2008. His next five years would include a deployment to Afghanistan and the types of traumatic experiences that are common to war. Friends died. PTSD grabbed his mind. Substance abuse fueled the spiral downward.
“They see really, really, horrible things,” his mother said. “I can only imagine it. And just imagining it is hard enough.”
Then came May 13, 2013.
“They said, ‘how did this happen?'” she recalled. “And I said because he was sick before.”
Patton is driven in part by something she found out after her son died. He helped other soldiers stay alive before he took his own life.
“He saved at least three lives. He talked them out of it,” she said. “[He told them] it’s not the right way to go. It won’t end your problems. It’s just going to start problems for everyone else.”
Through the foundation, she tours the country and talks to troops about Matthew’s battle and how important it is to get help.
“To see [what they see] and not get help for it?” she said. “We’re failing them. Our country is failing them very badly. And that’s why they’re dying.”