Military Life

How one milspouse used her husband’s ‘why’ to find her own

Jessica Manfre Avatar

“As a child, Richard was inquisitive, comical and loved entertaining or making people laugh. He also loved being outside, building projects and hanging out in the water at the beach and anything to do with animals and sea creatures,” Carla Stumpf Patton (surviving spouse) shared. “He was also fascinated by magic and would love to mystify people with various illusions and magic tricks.”

The two fell in love at just 15 years old and dated throughout high school. Stumpf enlisted as a Marine after his graduation in 1988. They were married a year after his completion of boot camp where he finished 13th out of 85 recruits in their hometown of Sarasota, Florida. He had the inside of her wedding band inscribed. The words?

Semper Fidelis. 

“He wasn’t from a military family but he chose it because he was looking for direction, independence and structure. It was important for him to have meaning in his life,” she added. “He lived and breathed everything Marine Corps.”

Strumpf volunteered to serve in the Persian Gulf War just months after getting married and later realized his dream of becoming a drill instructor at Parris Island. TIME Magazine did a feature on him to demonstrate what it took to become one.

In 1993 he told the Navy Times his thoughts on training the next generation. “The only thing I want to do is better the Marine Corps,” he told them. “I wanted to come down here and put 110% into these kids so that when they get out in the streets, they’ll have a role model to look back at and be able to keep that esprit de corps flowing through their veins.”

But despite the stellar career and reputation as a Marine, he was hiding a silent battle. His wife begged him to seek counseling as she saw his mental health deteriorate but ever proud, he refused help. After crashing his car and reading over double the legal limit for alcohol, she believes he had his mind made up. Patton called the command and implored them to get him into counseling and he was scheduled to start getting support that coming Monday. 

Instead, he died by suicide. Patton never had the chance to see her husband’s body or attend his goodbye as she was giving birth to their son, Archer, instead. Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat The world is better with you in it!

“In 1994, there were no resources for young military widows, let alone no resources for suicide support, and other than with our family, I felt as if I was the only one who had ever been through this. He is so much more than the final moments of how he died by suicide,” she shared. “Eventually, the ‘why’ of how he died became the ‘why’ of my own purpose in what I do today to help with suicide prevention and help those in the military community who have been impacted by suicide.”

The rate of suicide for military service members has steadily risen since the 90s. Patton has made it her mission to share their story as a cautionary tale in hopes of preventing more families from going through what they did. 

“With the help, care, and support of family, friends, and communities, people can heal, and their families can rebuild their lives for a hopeful future ahead and become a living legacy to their loved one’s life and service,” she added. 

Patton continues to speak and mentor families through TAPS and share her husband’s story every time she can. As Memorial Day approaches, it’s a stark reminder of the cost of service. 

“As most people are out celebrating and enjoying one another’s company with laughter and creating happy memories, grateful for a three-day weekend, most people often lose sight of what the holiday is truly about. It’s a time of patriotism to honor the dedicated service of all those who died while or after serving in the United States Armed Forces,” she explained.  For families, loved ones, friends and fellow military comrades of America’s Fallen Military- this is not necessarily a time of happiness or celebration, as it often comes with the cost of personal loss and tragedy. Rather, it is an honored, solemn time of reflection, remembrance and gratitude.”