2006-06-30 / Columnists

On The Beach

Welcome To Wounded Warriors With Beverly Baxter

Welcome To Wounded Warriors
With Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTERBEVERLY BAXTER "...and in 1915, my country said, 'son, it's time you stop rambling', there's work to be done...' And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun, and they sent me away to the war." -From Waltzin' Mathilde (former National Anthem of Australia)

Tom Brokaw referred to them as "the greatest generation," the heroes who fought the battles at Normandy and throughout Europe during WWII. And thereare only a few of these few good men left amongst us...to remind us...It doesn't quite matter which side of the war in Iraq you are on; when you see the spirit and determination of these young men, these WoundedWarriors, who are to arrive for a whirlwind visit to Rockaway from July 6-9, you will feel compelled to bow your headwith gratitude for their serviceand respect the way in which they have triumphed and trumped their disabilities.

These Wounded Warriors are not idly sitting on the front porch, watching the parade, their world, pass before them.

They are out there, with their prostheses, up on water-skis and surf boards, donning Scuba equipment; fiercelyintent on showingus just how life isdone. How, as Amputees,they have not onlymanaged to live, butrather,live with exuberanceas theysuck all the marrow that there is out oftheir livesdespite their disabilities.

Hosted by The Graybeards, the Wounded Warriors will arrive from Walter Reed Veterans Hospital in Washington D.C. on July 6.From the Staten Island side of the Goethals Bridge, they will be transferred into antique fire trucks and escorted by helicopter and amotorcade comprised of NYPD and FDNY as theytravel over the Gill Hodges-Marine Parkway Bridge and descend into Rockaway.

They will travelto Breezy Point, where they will be greeted at The Surf Club; and then proceed the spectator-lined route along Rockaway Beach Boulevard toThe Beach Club for an invitation-only reception where they will meet and be greeted by their host families. Last year, the Graybeards were host to 28 Wounded Warriors.

This year, they will host 40. "I've done a lot of things in my life; but mostevents pale compared to having theopportunity to meet these guys. It's an honor to host them," states Don Hart, a retired NYPD Detectivewho served inthe Marine Corps in Korea andretired after thirty years from the Reserves; andwho, along with his wife Joan, areamong the families who have hosted the Warriors for their second year. "And there's a waiting list of families who have offered their homes...the responsehas been tremendous."

The idea to host the Wounded Warriors began with Graybeards memberFlip Mullen, whom many regard as a hero for his work with the Special Olympics and as a mentor to many of Rockaway's youth. Over the years I have heard the name Flip Mullen said with such awe and reverence. After speaking with him about his involvement withthe Wounded Warriors, I am left equally awed and speechless. Mullen has been working with the handicapped as a Ski Instructor for the past eighteen years at Wyndham and in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. It was while working with them on snow skis that he asked if they would be able to come to Rockaway for water-sports. With their indomitable spirit, they gave a resounding "Yes!"

Mullen is no stranger when it comes to rising to an occasion of need and answering the call.Retired from the FDNY, heworked with many rescue companies at the World Trade Center; and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he, along with his buddy, Don Hart, headed to Long Beach Gulfport Mississippi with monies raised byThe Graybeardsto aid in thebuilding ofa temporary school.

In my awe, I must havemuttered, "Why? What is your connection to the handicapped? To those in need?"

I wanted to hear this great man describe his connection to that thing that, while it resonates in all of us as human beings, is rarelyshown by the special few.

He explained it with succinct humility.

"I am a lucky man.

I am a father to seven healthy kids. How can you not give back and say thank you." His kids quip, "Weknow why you do it, Dad. It's because the blind can't see just how bad you ski!"

Thereare many logistical details that go into hosting the Warriors. First, theindividual needs and disabilitiesmust be assessed.

On Friday morning, July 7, FDNY vans driven by Firemen who are assigned to thevarious warriors, will pick up the warriors and take them to theBreezy Point Yacht Club, where they will get onfishing boats and jet skis and soar through Jamaica Bay. A 27,000 gallon, 45'x20',pool, provided by "Big Wave Dave from the West Coast" and D.E.M.A (Dive Equipment Making Association)will arrive from Wisconsin andwill beassembled on sitebya local team that includes Don Hart, Tom Cannon and volunteers from the St. Francis de Sales Boy Scouts.

Many willreceive certificationin Scuba Diving. The warriors will also participate in adaptive sailing with a head instructor who is missing both of his legs.   

On Friday night, the warriors and their host families will be treated to a six-hourcruise with Captain Freddy Ardolino aboardhis Mega Yacht Atlantis to the Statue of Liberty, where they will dance; yes, they will boogie on that dance floor! andbe celebratedby the FDNY with a water show in their honor.

On Saturday, they will participate in more water sports;and in the evening, members of the Special Olympics will lead a parade to Flip and Rita Mullen's home for a Rockaway-style block-party reception.

The festivities will culminatewith a mass atthe BreezyPoint World Trade Center Memorial.Following themass, there will be a final reception at the Breezy Point Yacht Club.

For me, it'sgreat men like Flip Mullen, The Graybeards and their collaboration with the Wounded Warriorswhoare amongst the greatest generation that there is now.

Until we meet again.

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