Rockaway Welcomes Our Wounded Warriors
They came in processions led by motorcycles and police horses. They came in a small fleet of antique convertibles, riding in or on antique fire engines, fire trucks, vans and other vehicles.
Fifty-five disabled veterans, from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, as well as their families and supporters were welcomed into Rockaway with a grand parade on Wednesday, July 9. All are here for the 10th annual Wounded Warriors Project weekend.
The large flatbed trailer that led the parade, pulled by a powerful fire truck, bore two simple banners that said it all: “Welcome” and “Thank You.”
All along their route from Breezy Point to Beach 120th Street in Belle Harbor, the Wounded Warriors were greeted by crowds of all generations, some older, some younger, some holding hands with children, pulling wagons or pushing strollers, who lined the streets for a very hometown greeting.
Nearby firemen with a ladder truck hoisted a large American flag over Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
“We’ve been coming to this parade since we were little,” teenager Emma Meade said, “because they’re depending on our country to show that we care.”
Nodding to neighbors who had come out along the curb, she said “It’s good to support them, and it’s nice to see everyone else who cares.”
If there was something they wanted to say to these veterans, her friend Lauren Marten said, it would be “thank you. Thank you for protecting us, thank you for your bravery. Thank you for doing what you do.”
The parade concluded at Memorial Circle at Beach 120th Street, which is itself marked with tributes to the fallen of previous wars.
Afterwards the veterans were greeted by bagpipers at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club and enjoyed a welcoming dinner inside.
Flip Mullen, one of the organizers and founders of Rockaway’s Wounded Warrior Project, noted they have volunteer instructors and experienced personnel who have come from all over the country to make this a fun and challenging weekend for the vets.
Among other planned activities, from Thursday July 10, until Saturday, July 12, the former service members will engage in all kinds of adaptive sports, including scuba diving, water skiing, surfing, kayaking and stand up paddling (SUP). Special adaptive equipment and rigs have been brought in to allow them to enjoy these sports.
After 9/11 Mullen says he got a call from Breckenridge, Colorado, about setting up an adaptive winter sports program to support the firefighters and some veterans.
Eventually the idea developed into doing a winter program in Windham, and then dedicating a summer event exclusively for disabled veterans right here in Rockaway. Or, as Mullen describes it, “this paradise between the shore and the bay.”
“The whole idea,” he said, “is to challenge them to do things they never thought they could do.
“And they are able to do this in front of their families.”
On Saturday, July 12, the Warriors will be the special guests at the Rockaway Special Olympics Fundraiser starting at 6 p.m. at the home of Flip and Rita Mullen. Donations are $40 per adult and $5 for children accompanied by a contributing adult.
At 9 a.m. on Sunday a special Mass will be held at the Breezy Point 9/11 Memorial. A community meet and greet with the Warriors afterward will conclude the weekend.
“It speaks volumes to the resolve of this community and the character of its residents to move on with this event in support of our mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors, while they still rebuild from Superstorm Sandy,” said Al Giordano, the deputy executive director of the Wounded Warrior Project. “We are honored to return to Rockaway.”