Residents in the Bethany Beach area who wanted to show appreciation to wounded warriors may have set off a chain reaction that could spread throughout the country.
The idea they came up with is a simple one, but one with far-reaching implications. Twenty-five homeowners donated the use of their homes last week to provide a relaxing beach vacation to 25 wounded warriors and their families. In all, more than 100 people turned out for what most think may be the first-of-its-kind event anywhere.
Families taking part in Operation Seas the Day were treated to special events, free meals, recreational activities, boat rides, shopping and even an afternoon at a salon.
The organizers have been contacted by people from several other beach communities, including Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City, Md., about sponsoring similar events.
“What they are doing for these veterans is so great; it's amazing.” Those are words from someone who knows a thing or two about the military. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jack Sheler, who now works for the Wounded Warrior Project, came from Tampa, Fla., to see the event first-hand.
“I'm taking notes. When I go back home, we want to do something like this,” he said.
Families mingled Sept. 4 at a barbecue and bonfire hosted by Sea Colony in Bethany Beach. It was one of four special events just for family members. They also posed for beach portraits on the sand in front of the complex.
The Condon family of Delmar, Del., didn't have to drive far to reach Bethany Beach as the lone Sussex County family taking part in the event.
Richie Condon, a 17-year Army veteran, said he didn't have to ponder long when he was asked if he wanted to spend a week at the beach with his family. “Something like this is very humbling because we have grown not to expect it,” he said.
He has served all over the world including the Pentagon on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Even though he's faced an uphill battle, he's not bitter. “There are many, many others a lot worse off than me,” he said.
Condon, who has worked hard to rebuild his body after suffering a devastating knee injury in Afghanistan, said he was told by doctors that he would have trouble walking and would never run again. “I was told that I was done with three years left to retirement; it crushed me. If I could, I would get back in the Army right now,” he said.
Condon recently finished a mud run and plans to compete in other running events.
To Brent Hendricks of North Carolina spending time at the beach was a break he really needed. Coming directly from Walter Reed National Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he said the grueling routine at the hospital has become part of his life. “It was nice not to have to set the alarm clock at 7:20 to get started on rehab,” he said.
Hendricks, known as Hoss, has spent most of the past seven years in and out of Walter Reed; he's had his left leg operated on 74 times and is getting ready for yet another operation. He lost his right leg and has been fitted with a high-tech prosthetic leg.
He was injured in 2006 and received his medical retirement in 2007 at the age of 21.
It's been a tough road for Hendricks. He points to a scar on his throat: “I flatlined on the battlefield and then again at Walter Reed,” he said.
Looking upward he said, “I have a good relationship with the man upstairs.”
Out of the hospital, Hendricks has had to deal with the loss of his father and mother over the past few years. He said many in his situation would give up on life. “But every day is special to me,” he said.
Jeremy Muncert, 28, of Clayton, N.C., gets around now with the help of a service dog, a large great dane named Page, who was a big hit during the barbecue at Sea Colony.
Muncert said the event is giving him a chance to talk with other veterans he can relate to. He said counselors and psychologists he talked with don't understand what wounded warriors are going through. “It's other soldiers who understand,” he said.
He still mourns the loss of 18 friends he lost during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.