On the outside, Danny Grogan appeared to have everything going for him.
Easy going with an omnipresent smile, the 25-year-old decorated combat veteran was the kind of guy everyone wanted to be around.
He never wanted to be the center of attention and when someone was going through a difficult time, he was always the one to his friends turned for positive reinforcement.
On the outside, life’s troubles, things that would leave most of us a nervous wreck, never seemed to get him down.
During two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf, his shipmates said Danny was the guy who made life bearable during the long days of combat operations. Even when he and his wife separated, his parents said Danny always maintained a positive attitude.
“It’s OK,” he would tell his mom. “We’re best friends. Everything will work out.”
The last time his mom talked to him, Danny was on the computer getting ready to purchase a plane ticket back to San Diego where his wife lived. He told his mom he was optimistic of being able to reconcile their marriage. He had also been accepted to San Diego State University and had made the decision to go back to the west coast, enroll in college and study to become a social worker.
On the outside, Danny was the guy who took care of everyone and had everything going for him.
Few knew that on the inside, Danny was consumed by a depression so deep, life had become a daily battle for survival.
On July 30, the Navy veteran conceded defeat in the only battle he ever lost.
Tears flowed freely in the Waxahachie home of his parents, Ray and Rebecca Grogan, as the family shared stories of how their son had positively touched the lives of everyone he met.
“The only thing is, he couldn’t see that,” said Rebecca. “He was so consumed by depression, he didn’t think that he could ever make a difference with his life. He was one of those ‘the glass is half full’ people that could always find the positives in every one and every situation. But he had gotten to a point where he couldn’t see that in himself.”
Reading from a stack of letters and printouts of emails and Facebook posts sent to the family from his former shipmates, Ray began reading the correspondence.
“The light in this world dims for us all. I am thankful that but for a moment we shared a deep friendship, and a closeness reserved for men brought together through trials and tribulations. He will live on forever in us all as a shining example of grace, strength, and unrelenting loyalty. I along with all of his brothers, will miss him deeply.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Grogan, I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your son was a great man, and carried and saw me through some of the hardest times of my life. Always positive and with a smile on his face, he looked towards the better days to come. I would love to meet you both someday, and tell you personally what an honor it was to have served alongside one of the greatest men I have ever met.”
“(Danny) was always one guy that could make me smile whenever I saw him. He just had something about him that could make you forget about what was going on and just see that there were still really good people out there that were always willing to put everybody in front of themselves. I don’t ever recall seeing him mad while on the ship. I’m sure just like the rest of us he had his days, but he never really seemed to show it. He was a great guy and will be missed.”
“Those long hard days at sea, your positive attitude and smile helped me through it. You will be greatly missed my friend. My prayers are with your family.”
“Rest in peace Danny. … I am so sad that I’m on deployment again and cannot be there at your funeral. You always were a great person. I don’t think you negatively affected anyone in your lifetime. That’s something to be proud of and says something about you.”
Ray’s voice began breaking up as he read the words of the last post and he apologized as tears streamed down his face.
“That’s my son,” he said, apologizing again for his tear. “What a great testament to have his friends say that he’s never negatively affected anyone in his life. These past three months he kept telling me that he wished he was more outgoing like me. But the reality is, I read all of these letters from his shipmates and all I can think about is how I wish I were more like him. My goal in life is to be more like my son was. He couldn’t see it, but he set a remarkable example. He didn’t think he made a difference, but he touched everyone he ever met and made them a better person. I just wish he could have seen that.”
Before he became a teenager, Danny knew that he wanted to join the Navy.
“It’s all he ever talked about,” Ray said, recalling Danny’s high school days when the family lived in Midlothian. “He was a good student, made good grades, but all he wanted to do was go in the Navy.”
“He was the kid that never gave us any trouble,” Rebecca added. “He was always upbeat and could always find the silver lining in any situation. I can’t ever remember him ever being down about anything.”
After graduating from Midlothian High School in 2004, Danny enlisted in the Navy and pursued his lifelong dream.
He shipped out to San Diego for basic training and after completing sonar school, received orders for the USS Russell, a guided missile destroyer.
In between deployments to the Gulf where his ship provided combat support for the troops in Iraq, Danny met Marcella. The two hit it off immediately and after a whirlwind courtship, made a commitment to spend the rest of their lives together.
“He just dealt with everything in stride,” Rebecca said. “We were worried sick every time his ship would go on deployment. He kept telling us it would be OK and not to worry.”
Ray talked about the medals his son earned, noting that Danny never seemed to care much about the medals.
“His shipmates have been here all week for the funeral and they told us that Danny should have earned a lot more medals than he received. They said they would tell him that he should have spoken up and said something, but he would just blow it off, telling them it wasn’t a big deal,” Ray said. “Danny never did like to call attention to himself. He never felt comfortable being in the spotlight.”
Following his last deployment Danny and Marcella’s relationship became strained and the two agreed to separate. Danny moved out and got his own apartment in San Diego.
“The things that would drive most of us nuts, like being in a combat zone or being separated from your spouse, didn’t seem to phase him,” Rebecca said, saying the deployments had been tough for the young couple, but that, through everything, the family has remained close with Marcella. “(Danny and I) would talk on the phone and he was never upset about it. He kept reassuring me that they were best friends and that everything would work out.”
In July 2010, Danny decided not to reenlist when his contract was up and received an honorable discharge.
He had talked about going to college.
He continued to work on his marriage.
But he told his mom he was having trouble deciding what he should do with the rest of his life.
“He couldn’t make a decision,” Rebecca said. “He was so intent on making sure he did the right thing, when he couldn’t figure out what that was, he began to question his whole life.”
Opting to delay college, last fall Danny decided he was going to go back into the Navy.
Because he had broken his arm in a bicycle crash that summer, he was told he wouldn’t be eligible for enlistment until a year after the arm had healed.
Unable to return to the one job Danny felt most secure and unsure what he should do next, his family finally convinced him to return home in hopes of helping him figure things out.
Now living in Waxahachie, in April of this year, Ray and Rebecca helped Danny move his belongings from San Diego to their new home in the Mustang Creek subdivision off of Farm-to-Market 813.
Emotionally drained and overcome with grief, Rebecca sat on the sofa as the afternoon light streamed through the half-open blinds covering the window behind her.
Through the tears, her face would beam as she talked about Danny and the time they spent together.
“As difficult as this is, I believed God blessed me with the past few months we had together,” she said, noting the many nights she and Danny would stay up talking about God and life.
On the outside, most just thought Danny was going through a typical period that all young adults go through when trying to figure out what it is they want to do with their lives.
But moms can usually tell when something else is wrong.
And Rebecca knew Danny wasn’t going through a typical phase.
One night after he moved back to Texas, Danny said goodnight and started walking to his room.
Rebecca asked him what was wrong and he gave the standard, “everything is fine, don’t worry” response.
She wouldn’t let it go at that.
“I told him we needed to talk and ordered him to sit down on the sofa next to me,” she said.
The two stayed up the entire night talking.
He asked her how he was supposed to know what God wanted him to do.
He told her he was confused because he didn’t feel like he had the personality to ever make a difference in life. He said he wished he could be more outgoing like his dad. He felt if he were, maybe he could be somebody in life.
“He was a quiet man,” said Rebecca, as she described how she wrapped her arms around him and tried her best to reassure him that he was making a difference.
“I told him that he was one of the people who make the biggest difference of all because even though they aren’t in the spotlight, like the song, he was the ‘wind beneath the wings’ that lifted everyone up.”
As the tears flowed freely down her face, Rebecca talked about the many nights and conversations that followed.
She talked about the anxiety attacks that gripped Danny and how she would wrap her arms around him and hold him until the attacks passed.
“Not once, not one time did he ever lose control and lash out at me or say a single cuss word when he was having an attack,” she said. “I don’t know how he was able to do it. You hear all the time about how people going through these types of episodes become violent, but not him.
“He would put his hands over his head and start saying, ‘make it stop, make it stop.’ I would hold him until it passed. He never pushed me aside or told me to go away or ever said one single cuss word.
“One time I asked him about it and he said that he could never cuss in front of me or do anything to hurt me,” she said. “I don’t know how he was able to have that much control when the attacks came over him.”
While the family continued to help Danny work his way through his bout of depression, the anxiety attacks became more frequent. In July, they realized they needed professional help and Ray took Danny to the VA Hospital in Dallas for an emergency psychiatric evaluation.
“I wanted to go in with Danny when he saw the doctor because I knew that Danny wasn’t going to tell him everything. The state of mind that he was in at the time, I don’t think he could have. The doctor told me I could go in only if Danny said it was OK. Danny told me that it would be OK, he could handle it on his own,” Ray said.
The doctor prescribed an anti-depressant and made an appointment for Danny to come back in mid-August.
“The medicine actually made it worse,” Ray said, recalling how he had to take him back to the VA that same week. Following that emergency visit, Danny was prescribed a different anti-depressant.
“After a few days, that medicine seemed to be working,” Ray said, noting the anxiety attacks became less frequent, and when they occurred, didn’t seem to last as long.
“He actually started sounding like the old Danny,” he said.
In fact, everyone in the family believed things were looking up.
Danny began talking about enrolling in college.
On July 25, Marcella called to tell him the deadline had ended on their legal separation and she couldn’t sign the divorce papers. She told him that she loved him and that she wanted to work things out.
On Saturday, July 30, the family had decided to go to the movies and enjoy an evening out. They tried to get Danny to go along, but he told them that he had made a decision to go back to San Diego and was going to shop for a plane ticket on the computer.
For the first time in weeks, Rebecca didn’t worry about leaving Danny alone.
After his parents and sisters left the house, Danny wrote a final note in his journal and placed it on the top of his box of papers. He loaded his dad’s shotgun, walked onto the back patio of his parent’s house and took his own life.
In the past week Ray and Rebecca have experienced every emotion imaginable.
“I know that people say that suicide is a selfish act,” Rebecca said through the tears. “I know in my heart he never meant to cause us pain. That’s not who he was. I know he didn’t do this because he didn’t want to work to try and get better because he tried. He really tried hard. He was just so confused. This wasn’t a selfish act. He just reached that point where he felt he didn’t have anywhere else to turn.”
Ray pulled out Danny’s notebook and opened it to the page containing the last entry and began reading.
“I love you all. … Please don’t feel guilty. I need to do this,” Ray read, his voice breaking to the point he couldn’t finish.
“I just wish I could have made him understand how important he already was,” he said.
Rebecca added that if she had been there to hold him during what she believed was another anxiety attack, she could have calmed him down until it passed.
“He was so deep into depression,” she said. “We all thought he was starting to come out of it.
“Most of us go through highs and lows throughout our life and we learn how to balance things out. I really believe because Danny was always such a steady person, he never experienced the lows and when he began experiencing depression, he didn’t know how to pull himself out,” she said.
A devoutly spiritual family, Ray said his pastor, who is also a psychologist, told him that Danny was the type of person who needed to please others and when he felt that he couldn’t do that, he couldn’t handle it.
Amid the grief, Ray and Rebecca said they have been able to get through the past week by the number of friends and strangers alike God has sent to provide comfort.
More than a half-dozen of Danny’s former shipmates have flown in from around the world to attend his funeral and scores more have sent cards, emails and Facebook postings expressing their condolences while sharing stories of how Danny touched their life.
Danny did not have life insurance and Ray and Rebecca are currently going through a difficult time financially after Ray was laid off from his job. A group of business leaders has created an account at Citizens National Bank of Texas to help cover the cost of Danny’s funeral.
“I know that God has sent everyone to help us get through this. From the police and EMTs who were here on Saturday night when we were at our darkest moment to all of the people that have been here throughout the week wanting to help, they have all been a blessing and we can’t begin to express how much they have helped us through this very difficult time,” Rebecca said.
Ray and Rebecca agreed to share Danny’s story in hopes it may help other families and realize they are not alone.
“We’re not the type of people to blame others. It doesn’t solve anything and it won’t bring back our son,” Ray said. “But maybe someone will read this and say, that sounds like my son or daughter, and they can get them the help they need instead of trying to do it alone. We don’t want any parent to go through what we’re going through.”
Ray picked up the stack of letters and emails and begins reading some of the notes again, choking back the tears with each broken word.
“We also want everyone to know who our son was and that he did make a difference in the lives of others, even if he couldn’t see it,” Ray said.
How to help
A benefit account has been established at Citizens National Bank of Texas to help the family pay for funeral expenses. The combat Navy veteran did not have life insurance. Any donations above the cost of the funeral will be donated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Family Assistance Fund.
Donations may be made at any CNB of Texas branch or mailed to:
Benefit Account for Danny Grogan
c/o Citizens National Bank of Texas
200 N. Elm St.
Waxahachie, Texas, 75165
Contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1457