NEW CITY, N.Y. -- Rockland is in mourning after the death of a decorated soldier and former firefighter from Wesley Hills, said County Executive Ed Day.
Army Sgt. James Morrison was on active duty in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry in Ft. Carson, Colorado, when he was found dead Wednesday.
His death is under investigation, but foul play does not appear to be suspected.
The 28-year-old had been deployed to Afghanistan three times.
Day said that Morrison’s father, Richard, of Wesley Hills, wants his son to be remembered for both his heroism and service to his country as well as for the struggles he, like so many service members, encountered after serving in a war zone.
"PTSD is real," the elder Morrison said, referring to post traumatic stress disorder. "This is proof."
According to ptsdunited.org, an estimated 8 percent of all Americans, or 24.4 million people, have suffered from PTSD at any given time.
It was once thought of as something only combat veterans suffered from in reaction to their experiences on the battlefield, but now it’s recognized that it can be caused by any traumatic event, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters, serious accidents, assault or abuse and major emotional losses.
Veterans Administration studies have also found, ptsdunited.org said, that an estimated 20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom vets, up to 10 percent of Gulf War vets and up to 30 percent of Vietnam War vets have experienced PTSD.
This year alone, the organization said, the number of the PTSD cases in the military rose by 50 percent – and that’s only the diagnosed and reported cases.
Morrison’s father and his mother, Sharon, said they want his death to serve as a reminder that military members should not be afraid, or ashamed, to seek assistance for mental health issues.
"We want him to be remembered as a hero," his parents said.
In 2011, Morrison was cited for heroism by the then-U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, a Cornwall-on-Hudson native and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Morrison and other troops were engaged in a fierce battle with Taliban soldiers in southeastern Afghanistan in May, 2011.
According to an account in a Defense Department publication, Morrison “ran through enemy fire to reach a weapon that was used to push the enemy back.”
His actions helped the troops win the battle, the Defense Department said.
Morrison, 23 at the time, was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with Valor.
He re-enlisted and was serving in Colorado, where he lived with his wife and daughter.
A 2006 graduate of Ramapo High School, both Morrison and his father served for many years with the Hillcrest Fire Department.
The fire department posted the following message on its Facebook page: "It is with great sadness that the Hillcrest Fire Company No. 1 announce the passing of Firefighter James Morrison. James is also the son of Life Member Richard Morrison. Please keep the Morrison Family in your thoughts and prayers."
Day offered the Morrison family his condolences and expressed admiration for its willingness to speak out about the deadly consequences of PTSD.
"As the father of two sons who served, one still on active duty, I can think of no greater heartache," the county executive said. "We know the people of Rockland will stand by the Morrisons during this time of tragedy."
Day reminded local veterans that the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency provides referrals for assistance.
There is also a Veterans Affairs health care clinic in New City, Day said.
Sgt. Morrison will be buried with full military honors. A firematic service will also be held.
Arrangements, which have yet to be finalized, are being handled by the T.J. McGowan Sons Funeral Home in Garnerville.
For more information, call the funeral home at (845) 271-7162. It is located at 71 North Center Highway.
In addition to his parents, Sgt. Morrison is also survived by his sister, Ashlee; wife, Christine, and daughter, Emma.
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