Families, firefighters, and friends gather to support Wounded Warrior Project

August 16, 2013 Heather Chin
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It was a day of fun in the sun, all to support the hard work and sacrifices of generations of veterans, many wounded.

On Thursday, August 15, the Wounded Warrior Project held what they hope to be their inaugural family fun day–a Coney Island Beach Day complete with a barbecue with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and a boxing event with the NYPD. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., hundreds of New Yorkers from across the five boroughs started out the day behind MCU Park, in the shadow of the Parachute Jump and a large American flag hung from two fire truck cranes, determined to have fun while also staying focused on the cause that brought them all together.

A firefighter with Ladder 161 watched as his son played bean bag toss at the Wounded Warrior Project's Coney Island Beach Day. (BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Heather J. Chin)

“I’m a fireman down the block and came for the good cause [because] any time you can help–pay tribute to those who serve–you do it,” said Vincent G. of Ladder 161 in Brooklyn, as he watched his seven-year-old son toss bean bags through the game board. “He’s going to go on rides and it’ll be fun.”

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Cecilia Mesias of Queens came with over a dozen family members from across the city to the event, ensuring that there would be a family reunion of support for her husband, who served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, returning home a few years ago with injuries to his spine, arm and other parts of his body.

“It’s a lot of struggle and is hard for the family and for him,” she admitted. “We try to support him, but we’re not the one in pain.”

Fortunately, she notes, he has had his friends through the Wounded Warrior Project to talk with. “When he comes [to events like these], he sees his friends and it’s helpful. They all get together.”

Michelle Collado came to support her uncle and also got her portrait done at the Wounded Warrior Project's Coney Island Beach Day. (BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Heather J. Chin)

Having events like this one also not only helps bring the whole family together, but enables them all–kids and adults alike–relax and enjoy the fun activities and life in general.

Building that camaraderie and those support networks, both within and outside of the veteran community, is why the Wounded Warrior Project holds public events such as this one, explained Danny Rodriguez, a warrior outreach coordinator with the organization. This Coney Island Beach Day will hopefully serve as something of a template for future public engagements, he said.

More community interaction is a good thing, said Staff Sergeant Kenneth Perna, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who returned this past Decembere from three tours, and Sergeant First Class Mark Bennett, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, who served two tours and is now stationed at Fort Hamilton.

“We’re ambassadors to the community here to show the military is not just about war,” said Bennett.

Brooklyn fire companies hoisted an American flag up over the festivities at the Wounded Warrior Project's Coney Island Beach Day. (BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Heather J. Chin)

Both agreed that it is important to show support for the family, friends, and neighbors left back home, as well, including those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“I returned in December and the transition back, coming to Fort Drum and this area [in Coney Island and elsewhere]–I was away for Sandy and it was kind of surreal, watching it on our TV screens on a base [overseas],” admitted Perna. “I thought: ‘it’s rougher conditions than what I [sometimes] do at the base.'”

Edwin Castillo, 20, a new Army recruit from Queens who attended the WWD Coney Island Beach Day as a member of the Army’s Future Soldier Program, added that the type of camaraderie that veterans seek after returning home is also, increasingly, built before they even ship out.

“I’ve met a lot of amazing people [through the Future Soldier Program] and we have so many things in common,” Castillo said. “My brother is a Marine and I’m the first in my family in the Army. . . I came [to this event] and look forward to meeting veterans since my uncle was in Vietnam.”

“We recognize how things were different for [Vietnam veterans like one we just met here],” said Bennett. “The reception that they got [upon coming home] wasn’t the same as when we return now.”

“It’s nice to thank [older veterans] for opening doors for us, the newer generation,” added Perna. “It’s important to show support for WWD soldiers like this.”


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