The life and death of Clay Hunt

"Clay had the world at his fingertips," a friend recalls. Why did the Marine combat vet take his own life?

The following script is from "The Life and Death of Clay Hunt" which aired on March 3, 2012. Byron Pitts is the correspondent. David Schneider, producer.

One of the leading causes of death for American military forces right now is suicide. In 2012, 349 active members of the Armed Forces took their own lives, more than who died in combat. When you add the suicides among veterans, the numbers are staggering. The VA estimates that as many as 22 veterans a day die by their own hands. Twenty-two each day.

This is the story of one: Clay Hunt from Houston, Texas, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After four years of a downward spiral, he took his own life in 2011. You'll see him in videos during some of his best times and hear him talk about some of his worst. Hunt loved being a Marine and serving his country and though he had been out of the Corps for two years when he died, Clay Hunt was a casualty of war.

This is Clay Hunt about a year before he killed himself. At 27, he thought he could make the world a better place.

[Question: Tell me who you are?

Clay Hunt: My name is Clay Hunt. I'm here because I'm needed here. ]

When a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Hunt -- a Marine combat veteran -- went back into action as a humanitarian.


VA Crisis Hotline
TAPS - Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors helps the families of vets that have died
Ride 2 Recovery - Featured in our story
Team Rubicon - Featured in our story
mtvU Half of Us Campaign - Helps people dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts

[Clay Hunt: I was there to do a job, to help people and that was such a great feeling, being able to actually get to work and help people and do good things and to not have to worry about getting shot at.

What Clay Hunt didn't say in this video is that by helping others, he was hoping to heal himself from the traumas of war. Hunt earned a Purple Heart when he was wounded in Iraq. A year later he deployed to Afghanistan. On both tours, he fought alongside Jake Wood.

Jake Wood: We became as close as friends can get.

Byron Pitts: Like brothers?

Jake Wood: Absolutely.

[Question: How do you know Jake?

Clay Hunt: He was best man at my wedding, he's my best friend for the last few years, he's the guy I asked to go get me a beer about 10 minutes after I got shot and he just laughed at me, but he's my brother, I'd die for him.]

Byron Pitts: He had so much going on for him. So, how could it happen to someone like Clay Hunt?

Jake Wood: I don't know. I don't know. Clay had the world at his fingertips. Clay could've done anything he wanted. He was smart. He was good-looking, charismatic. The ladies loved him. He was the all-American kid.

In early 2007, Clay Hunt and Jake Wood deployed to Iraq, outside Fallujah. Hunt later said, "that's when it all started - my life was changed forever." Only a month into their tour, Hunt's bunkmate, Blake Howey was killed by an IED. Three weeks later, another friend, Nathan Windsor, was shot in an ambush. Hunt was driving the platoon's Humvee a few yards away, under orders to stay put.

Jake Wood: Clay had to witness everything through a bulletproof windshield. He had to sit back and watch. And that was his job, and he did it. But it was, I think for him, a very-- it was a feeling of helplessness.

Susan Selke: He would tell me. He said, "Mom, that plays in my mind like a video over and over and it won't stop."

Susan Selke and Stacy Hunt are Clay's parents. From 6,000 miles away, they could sense the guilt and grief wash over him.

Susan Selke: He knew in his head there was nothing else that he could have done and he knew no one could have done anything more. But in his heart, it just-- it just tore him apart. Just tore him apart.

Stacy Hunt: It definitely changed him and in a way that we will never know how deeply it changed him.