Mother fights to have Marine son's name on memorial wall in Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- When Debra Reber thinks about her son, Marine Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Reber, the first thing that comes to mind is how fiercely he loved his family, country and being a Marine.

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps. when he was 18 years old and served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. But the horrors of war and post-traumatic stress disorder that followed became harder for him to cope with.

On one trip home, Debra asked her son if he had killed anyone overseas.

"He says, 'Yeah. They came around a corner 10 feet in front of me, raised their gun. It was me or them.' I said, 'I'm glad that you killed them.' I found out after he passed away it was a 10-year-old kid," she said.

On Aug. 14, 2014, Jeffrey took his own life. Debra had spoken with her son on the phone less than an hour before he died.

"It was my youngest brother-in-law who called. First words out of his mouth, and I know he didn't mean to say it mean or harsh, was 'Jeffrey's dead. Jeffrey shot himself.' I'm not supposed to bury my son. I'm supposed to go," Debra said.

Last year, a memorial wall was unveiled at the Rosie the Riveter Park in Long Beach, which honors those who have died in combat each year since 9/11. Debra requested that Jeffrey's name be added since he was in active duty when he died.

But the response she got shocked her. She said in a series of text messages that she was told Jeffrey would not be listed because he did not die in combat.

On the other end of those texts was Laura Herzog, with the nonprofit organization Honoring Our Fallen. She helped create the memorial.

She said that in order to be completely accurate, the names on the wall come directly from the Department of Defense.

"That's the only authentic published record of those that have died in combat since 9/11," she said.

She said the wall is far from complete and is meant to represent all fallen servicemen and women, regardless of how they died. It will eventually feature a plate that honors those who lost their battle with PTSD, like Jeffery.

"A hero remembered never dies and I could not consciously lay my head on a pillow at night knowing that there was that one fallen service member that committed suicide and their name was not on that wall," Herzog said.

But Debra said she will not give up.

"We fight for our kids. My son fought for his country. I'll continue to fight," she said.

The Reber family is holding a candlelight vigil at the wall Monday night to honor Jeffrey. They will also urge the Department of Defense to add names of suicide victims to war memorials.

There is also a petition, which has been signed by nearly 40,000 people. If you would like to sign it, you may do so by clicking here.
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