Healing Hearts on Rockaway Beach
The eighth annual Wounded Warriors Weekend in Breezy Point, NY.
Eight years ago, Rockaway Beach resident Flip Mullen, who served 18 years with the FDNY, his wife, Rita, and a group of former firemen called The Grey-beards, galvanized the support of local families in the Rockaway area and organized the first visit of wounded soldiers to the area for a four-day summer sports festival.
The festival has grown in size and stature with more and more soldiers arriving for a weekend of adaptive water skiing, surfing and sailing, and this year was no exception. A parade on July 12 kicked off the weekend with supporters and volunteers lining the streets as 52 soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and their families, including three triple amputees and one quadruple amputee (19 out of the 52 were in wheelchairs) descended on the tight-knit Irish-American neighborhood in Queens, New York.
The Rockaway/Breezy Point community knows more than most about tragedy and loss. It was one of the hardest-hit areas on September 11, losing many of its young men serving in the NYPD and FDNY, and was struck again two months later by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587. But joining forces with the Wounded Warrior Project, whose mission is to honor and empower injured veterans, “has helped our community to heal,” said Mullen, who traces his Irish roots to counties Galway, Sligo and Roscommon.
Highlights of the weekend included the annual dinner cruise to the Statue of Liberty, as fire and police boats gave a big salute, a chartered fishing trip, and the addition of surfing to the list of water-sports offered.
“We were able to bring in 10 instructors from Amp-Surf in California, and they were unbelievable,” says Flip. “They say in Walter Reed that the word spreads around in a hurry in the early spring to get strong enough to get to Rockaway.”
This year the group gave out the first Legend in Valor award, which went to the family of Army Staff Sgt. James McNaughton, 27, a New York City police officer serving in the Army Reserve, who was the first member of the force to be killed in action in Iraq (August 2, 2005). Sgt. McNaughton’s father, Bill accepted the award.
Sunday, the final day the soldiers were in Rockaway, some 700 people turned out to celebrate mass at the Breezy Point 9/11 Memorial site, which was followed by a meet and greet with the soldiers.