PEAKS ISLAND — An average of 22 veterans and one active-duty member of the armed forces die by suicide each day, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

One of these was Senior Airman Dustin Hadfield, a Mainer and Afghanistan veteran who took his own life in December 2014, almost two years to the day after he returned from his military service.

In the aftermath, his mother, Linda Lajoie, launched The Silhouette Project, which is designed to visually demonstrate the daily toll that veteran suicide takes.

The project consists of 22 life-size silhouettes that each bears the name and photo of a veteran or active-duty military person who died by suicide.

This week, The Silhouette Project was on display at the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island. An opening ceremony was held Thursday and the exhibit will be on display during regular museum hours through Sunday, July 15.

On the project website, Lajoie said she chose such a visceral representation because she wanted people to “see the statistic up close and personal.”


In an interview she said, “I hope people will start talking about the issue of suicide. It’s not something that only happens to other families. Every mom or loved one I have talked to who has lost someone to suicide never saw it coming.”

“Before losing them, almost all of us would have sworn that our son, daughter, husband, wife, friend, would never even consider it,” Lajoie said.

Susan Hanley, a member of the Fifth Maine Museum board of directors, said The Silhouette Project dovetails perfectly with the Portland organization’s mission, especially because the Fifth Maine Regiment Memorial Hall was originally built as a place for Civil War veterans to gather each summer. 

“The location and the camaraderie helped (those) veterans to process the emotional wounds of war,” Hanley said, just as The Silhouette Project now “seeks to raise awareness about the emotional wounds that veterans carry with them for years after battle, wounds that sometimes manifest themselves in suicide.”

“We hope people who see the exhibit will become more aware of why veterans are susceptible to suicide (and) what resources are available to veterans with emotional or mental battle wounds,” she said.

After her son committed suicide, Lajoie found that people are extremely uncomfortable speaking about veteran suicide, “which compounds the problem,” Hanley said. “It makes the topic taboo, and makes veterans who are contemplating suicide afraid to say so.”


That’s why Lajoie is working to raise awareness of the scope of veteran suicide and to help people have a conversation about it so solutions can be found, Hanley added.

In describing her experience, Lajoie has said there are many things she didn’t know.

“The signs are not usually easily recognized (and) what I thought I was seeing in Dustin was a 25-year-old kid sowing some wild oats and adjusting to life outside of the military,” she said. “Sadly, that was not the case.”

What she hopes, Lajoie said, is that “by sharing my story, my son’s story, maybe I can keep another mom from having to lose a child. I’m also hoping that people, veterans or not, will reach out for help when they need it.”

There is no shame in asking for help, she said. “It doesn’t mean you are weak,” she added, which is why an important feature of The Silhouette Project is highlighting the various resources that are available.

For example, the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services website features an interactive map to help veterans find organizations in their area that offer all sorts of assistance, including housing, support groups and free camping trips.


In addition, veterans can call a hotline at 800-273-8255 and 24-hour online help is just a keystroke away at

Overall, Lajoie said, “I am trying to erase the stigma associated with mental health and suicide. No one is comfortable talking about suicide, but we can’t fix a problem we don’t talk about.”

Hanley said the museum is working to expand its connection with veterans and hopes to host workshops or meetings that connect veterans with each other and with expert resources.

The Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry was one of the first Maine regiments to be mustered at the start of the Civil War. It consisted of more than 1,500 men from southern and central Maine.

The Fifth Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island is free and open to the public at 45 Seashore Ave. Call 207-766-3330 for more information.

What is now the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum at 45 Seashore Ave. on Peaks Island was created as a spot for Civil War veterans to gather each summer. (Submitted photo)

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