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Kirk Newman, left, and Kathie Newman sit before the grave of their son James Hessel, a veteran of Iraq who died by suicide days before his 28th birthday. The Newmans spend every Memorial Day at Fort Logan National Cemetery in southwest Denver. (David Gilbert, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news.

James Hessel came home from school on Sept. 11, 2001, and told his mom he was joining the Marines. 

“He felt it was his patriotic duty after that terrible day,” said Hessel’s mom Kathie Newman. “I told him to look into some of the other military branches. The Marines are pretty hardcore.” 

But Hessel was set on the Marines, and was sent to Iraq. 

“Every day, my pride and my fear lived side by side,” Newman said. 

Eventually, Hessel came home, but he wasn’t the same. He struggled with the impacts of a head injury sustained in a bomb attack on his convoy. He earned a Purple Heart for surviving the attack, but it left him with nebulous mental issues. 

“He struggled for a time, but he found a good job, and we thought he was doing great,” Newman said. “But those who served over there – they carry wounds in their hearts. He saw things that ate him up inside. Sometimes he was here, and sometimes he said he felt like he was back there. He wasn’t sure what was dream and what was reality.” 

In March of 2012, just days before his 28th birthday, James Hessel became one of the more than 6,000 American veterans a year who die by suicide. On Memorial Day, Newman sat in front of her son’s headstone at Fort Logan National Cemetery, wearing her son’s shirt. Beside her sat Kirk Newman, her son’s stepdad.


David is a former Colorado Sun staff writer.