Rockaway Welcomes 'Wounded Warriors'
The soldiers participating in the four-day adaptive sports event were severely injured in combat in separate incidents in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The action kicked off with a welcome parade at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 10. Hundreds of locals lined Rockaway Beach Boulevard as the caravan transporting the wounded warriors wended its way over the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to Roxbury and Breezy Point and then back to the Belle Harbor Yacht Club for a private reception by their host families.
"This is the welcome homecoming parade they never had," said Flip Mullen, a retired New York City Firefighter, Graybeard member and the event's chief organizer. Mullen said the sidewalks on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, from Beach 149 Street to Beach 126 Street, were packed to welcome the soldiers.
Next, on Friday, July 11 will be a fishing excursion in memory of New York City Firefighter Michael Roberts who was killed on September 11. The soldiers and their family members will board the Brooklyn 6 fishing boat from the BayHouse in Breezy Point. The afternoon will be spent water skiing, sailing, scuba diving and fishing, with the Rockaway Point Yacht Club hosting. Volunteers, including members of Disabled Sports USA, outfit the soldiers with special gear so they can participate.
Mullen said the repeat event has become well known at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., from which the U.S. soldiers will travel. The severely injured service men and women, and their physical therapists, use getting prepared for the event as a motivator.
"Rockaway has again opened up their doors to the wounded warriors," Mullen said.
The British soldiers are members of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association (BLESMA).
Friday evening the soldiers will board the mega-yacht, Atlantis, for a harbor cruise in memory of Lance Corporal Michael D. Glover, a U.S. Marine who was killed last August during combat operations in Iraq. Tickets for the event are sold out.
Saturday night is the Rockaway Special Olympics fundraiser block party on the beach block of Beach 134 Street. The event goes from 6 to 10 p.m. and the donation is $35 for adults and $5 for children.
The Breezy Point Cooperative's September 11 memorial will host Sunday morning Mass, after which the Wounded Warriors and BLESMA soldiers will participate in a full day of water-sports, with more water skiing, scuba diving, sailing and fishing out of the Rockaway Point Yacht Club.
Mullen said host families and donations are still needed to house the 58 soldiers and their families.
Mullen can be reached at 718-945- 4593 for details on hosting. Donations payable to the "GrayBeards/Wounded Warrior Project" may be sent to the Graybeards at 436 Beach 129 Street, Rockaway Beach, N.Y. 11694. A donation form is available online at www .Graybeards.com. The Gray Beards is a registered not-for-profit.