About 60 service members and their families visited Long Beach on July 16 with their families, as hundreds of residents flocked to the boardwalk for a Sunday morning race and later to West Beech Street for the annual parade to welcome the wounded veterans.
The Long Beach Waterfront Warriors has brought such military heroes to the city for the past nine years, as the trip for the veterans and their families offers a reprieve from the struggles of recuperating from injuries suffered in combat.
Many are undergoing treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. according to John McLaughlin, a retired firefighter who co-founded the organization with Gerry Snell in 2009, and suffer from injuries and conditions including lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, gunshot wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder.
McLaughlin added that the soldiers were honored by such a large turnout from the city’s residents, as the local Veterans for Foreign Wars, elected officials, the Long Beach Fire Department, a motorcycle club and a bagpipe band came together to make the parade — along West Beech Street, from Ohio Avenue to New York Avenue — a special procession.
“They love it,” McLaughlin said. “They love that someone is cheering for them and showing them support. Many go right from the battle field to the hospital and never had a welcome home.”
A 5K earlier that morning also had a large turnout. The group of recovering soldiers and their families — who are staying at Allegria Hotel — toured Manhattan on Tuesday, where they visited the site of the World Trade Center and received a panoramic view of the city from the top of Rockefeller Center. The servicemen were scheduled to spend Wednesday on the beach — where Skudin Surf gives lessons to the injured soldiers — before heading to a Long Island Ducks game.
“They’re just so grateful that people are grateful for them,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky. “They’re with their families, they’re looking at this week ahead — whether it’s fishing or going down into New York City, many of them for the first time — and they’re so happy that they’re being recognized. We’ve asked our soldiers to do a lot and often in our daily lives we forget that we even have wars going on … so to pause and thank them is so important and to be part of a community that leads the way doing so is just wonderful.”