For the second year, Irish-American families in Rockaway, New York, played weekend hosts to wounded soldiers July 6-9. Retired firefighter Captain Flip Mullen organized the visit of 40 soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to Rockaway, where they stayed with local families.
Jam-packed with activities, the weekend began with a police escort from Goethals Bridge to Rockaway with five NYPD helicopters leading the way. Fireboats in the river sprayed red, white and blue water into the air to begin the weekend in spectacular style.
Injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan water skied, scuba dived and took part on other water activities at Rockaway Point as part of the 2006 Adaptive Water Sports Festival, a joint effort of the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled Sports USA, the Graybeards, and the Fire Department of New York. Celebrities were out in force, with Sopranos actors Tony Sirico (Paulie) and John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco) enjoying the fun.
The community of Rockaway knows a great deal about tragedy, having suffered many casualties on 9/11 and further trauma when American Airlines flight 587 crashed in the area just two months later. However, these events have only brought the town closer together, and the residents’ willingness not only to help their own but to open their homes to returning wounded soldiers is an inspiring example. ♦