Wounded, but on the road to a new life
Islanders offer salutes as procession
takes vets to special sports program
Friday, July 07, 2006
By TEVAH PLATT and ALEX JACOBS
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE
New York City, which seldom pauses, stopped in its tracks yesterday to turn, stand and salute a group of wounded American soldiers.
A convoy of more than 30 vehicles, transporting veterans recently injured in combat, was greeted by saluting police, waving firefighters and hollering civilians across Staten Island and eastward.
The motorcade that halted traffic on the Staten Island Expressway and the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn and Queens was escorted by vintage vehicles, low-flying NYPD helicopters and a fireboat that shot cascading arcs of red, white and blue water into the harbor.
"Everybody is so, so proud of Daddy," said 5-year-old Keegan Jones of San Antonio, Texas, taking in his first-ever view of the city skyline from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Dad, 29-year-old Marine Staff Sgt. John Jones, was one of some 40 wounded soldiers en route to Rockaway, in Queens, where the group will participate through the weekend in the second annual water sports program offered by the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project.
Jones was traveling in a convoy in Al Qaim, Iraq, 18 months ago when his vehicle hit a double-stacked anti-tank mine. He lost his legs.
"(The veterans) need something to give them a boost, to enable them to believe in themselves again," said Kirk M. Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, which helps run the weekend's "adaptive sports" offerings: Water-skiing, fishing, sailing and scuba diving.
Trained Brooklyn firefighters will help conduct the sports lessons.
"This helps with healing the entire person -- physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially," said Lt. Col. Barbara Springer, chief of physical therapy service for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where many of the veterans were treated.
Soldiers joined by their families and scores of police officers and firefighters met yesterday afternoon on the eastbound, Island side of the Goethals Bridge, where many of the day's heroes climbed aboard vintage fire trucks provided by the Fire Family Transport Foundation.
The convoy was greeted at each of the Island's expressway overpasses by firefighters and police officers who awaited them in salute.
Hundreds of residents lined the streets of Breezy Point and Rockaway Park, Queens. Toting homemade signs ("Thank you brave soldiers!") and waving American flags, they cheered, threw confetti, spun pinwheels and blew bubbles that soared dream-like through what could have passed for a Norman Rockwell magazine cover.
At the end of the convoy, the FDNY Bagpipe and Drum Corps played the national anthem and "You're a Grand Old Flag."
"It's an honor to be here to show how much we appreciate what the troops have done for us, lost for us," said Firefighter Patrick Degen of Westerleigh, who's assigned to Ladder Co. 159 in Flatbush. "We're 100 percent behind them. We won't forget them."
For Vietnam veteran David Rosenzweig, the Fire Department's chief dispatcher on Staten Island who drove his own restored 1956 engine on the convoy, the day's emotions were mixed. While the overwhelming welcome was moving, Rosenzweig mourned the veterans' losses:
"They're kids and they're really beat up," he observed. "You really see what the war has done to the younger generation."
But yesterday's pageantry was about the warriors, not the war.
"It felt good," said Jones, who helps fellow amputees adjust through the Wounded Warrior Project. "You don't have to be behind the government, just the men and women who are out there."
Tevah Platt and Alex Jacobs are news reporters for the Advance. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
© 2006 Staten Island Advance
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