This Memorial Day, the City of Dearborn and the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council (DAWVC) will once again pay tribute to those who died in service to our country, but with a special focus on veterans who have lost their lives to suicide.
The 92nd Annual Dearborn Memorial Day Parade, the oldest continuous parade in Michigan, is set to step off at 10 a.m. Monday, May 30 along Michigan Avenue.
This year, the parade will switch directions. It will travel west from Maple and end at the Henry Ford Centennial Library. The parade theme aims to raise awareness of, and help reduce, veteran suicides.
This year’s Memorial Day Parade grand marshal, Stephen Cochran, knows only too well the importance of this mission.
Veteran efforts in suicide prevention are referred to as “22-A-Day”, due to the higher number of veterans who commit suicide each year in the United States as compared to non-military individuals.
Cochran, now a professional country music singer, joined the Marine Corps following the attacks of September 11. He served with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During a 2004 combat patrol in Kandahar, he was severely wounded and left the Corps with a traumatic head injury, broken back and no use of his legs. Told by doctors that he’d never walk again, he struggled with “demons both mental and physical.”
At a low point, he sat exhausted and alone in his Nashville home with a loaded shotgun.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Cochran said. “I was tired of taking all these pills. I was going through a breakup. Watching everything fall apart, I was ready to check out.”
His girlfriend arrived at the scene in time to physically restrain Cochran to prevent his suicide.
After a long struggle, an experimental procedure to repair his broken back was successfully performed at the Nashville VA Medical Center.
Extensive rehab followed, and once he could walk again, he resumed his life, but with a new passion to reach distressed veterans and their families. His country music career includes writing songs about veterans and the struggles they all share.
Cochran looks forward to his grand marshal duties in Dearborn. He will lead the parade, which will feature 80 veteran and community groups and 10 school bands, and then offer keynote remarks at the solemn Remembrance Ceremony that follows.
He also will perform a free concert at 7 p.m., Saturday May 28 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center.
The concert will feature Cochran and fellow country singer-songwriters Sam Tate and Tyler Jay Satterfield.
“I'm focusing all my attention to an organization called “#Stop22,” which I started with Daniel Dean, a fellow Marine vet and singer songwriter; and Sam Tate, a Vietnam army vet,” Cochran said.
“We raise awareness about veteran causes through our music and storytelling. It has become a great way for fellow vets to heal, civilians to be educated and everyone to unite,” he said.
Cochran uses his music to convey a deeper message.
“If we want to stop our suicides, we need a complete overhaul in our ‘warrior’ terminology in this country and we need to educate our families on how to relate with homecoming veterans,” Cochran said.
“I want to build a bridge between our civilian population and the veterans.”
His own journey echoes those of others. In front of fellow veterans and fans, Cochran would sing and smile, yet there was more behind the curtain.
“I also had to deal with this monster I had inside my head and my gut,” he said.
At home, his family took the brunt of his mood swings and emotional detachment.
“We have to start educating veterans’ families before they come home,” he said. “We’ve got to let them know this pain — it’s not meant for them.”
More about Stephen Cochran
Stephen Cochran was raised in the heart of the country music industry in Nashville with Opry legends such as Bobby Bare and Del Reeves among his family’s friends.
Cochran’s dad also was a singer-songwriter.
In 2007, he released the number one video hit "Friday Night Fireside" and began Armed Forces Entertainment tours of the Middle East and scores of benefit appearances on behalf of his fellow veterans.
Cochran served as a national spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from 2009 to 2014. The VA and Cochran collaborated to produce a music video for veterans who need help.
Cochran and Mark Melloan wrote "Hope," with the video featuring VA hospitals and patients. His other hits are “Gasoline on a Goodbye”, “When A Hero Falls”, “Pieces”, "She'll Thank Me Later" and “Whiskey Lies.” For more on Stephen Cochran, visit his Facebook page.