Friday, June 6 – OC Embraces War Veterans

OCEAN CITY – Roughly 75 wounded war veterans on a brief respite from Walter Reed National Army Medical Center in Washington unloaded from tour buses at the Princess Royale on Tuesday morning for a three-day break from the pain and drudgery of their recovery and rehabilitation process.

Seventy-five “wounded warriors” and their families arrived in Ocean City on Tuesday for a three-day visit to the resort courtesy of Maryland’s branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which gathered in Ocean City this week for their 88th annual convention. The state’s 95 VFW branches raised over $40,000 to send the wounded and recovering soldiers, all with varying degrees of injuries and illnesses, to the beach for three days of fun in the sun.

Busloads of injured soldiers, called wounded warriors, and their families, loaded up at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington early Tuesday morning and arrived in Ocean City by around 11:30 a.m. They were welcomed at a poolside reception at the Princess Royale and were treated to a standing ovation by the VFW members gathered for the annual convention.

This week marked the third time a group of wounded warriors and their families came to Ocean City for a three-day retreat from the rigors of recovery and rehabilitation. The program has grown each year with just 25 veterans the first year, 50 last year, when $26,000 was raised by the VFW’s, and 75 this year, when over $40,000 was raised.

The funds raised by the VFW paid for accommodations at the Princess Bayside and other welcoming gestures including gift bags with items they might need during their stay including beach towels and sunscreen and a little extra spending money. The local business community opened their hospitality arms also with gift certificates for restaurants and retail stores and other goodies for the soldiers and their families.

After the welcoming reception on Tuesday morning, the wounded veterans and their families were free to do whatever they wanted while in Ocean City without the rigid schedules they are used to as soldiers and hospital patients. Maryland VFW National Military Service Chairman Thomas Kimball said this week there were organized events each day during their stay, but they weren’t obliged to participate. Many chose to just sit on the beach or poolside while others chose to take in the sights, he said.

“This is really just about having fun,” he said. “Many of them have been in the hospital for weeks and months and this gives them the opportunity to get out and look at something else besides the walls of that hospital.”

The wounded veterans and their families are from all over the country and most had never been to Ocean City before. Others haven’t been on any kind of vacation for a long time, according to Kimball.

“These are folks from all over the country,” he said. “When they were offered a chance to spend some time at a nice resort on the Atlantic, they jumped for joy. One kid, I think he was from Oklahoma, had never seen the ocean before.”

The veterans’ brief time in the resort is not structured although there are events planned for each day of their stay. For example, Seacrets hosted an afternoon party of them on Wednesday, which is typically one of the highlights of the trip, according to Kimball.

“For a brief time at least, they get to play and sing and dance in the sun,” he said. “Last year, there was a woman in a wheelchair with no legs. Well, she went back to her hotel and put on her prostheses and came back and sang and danced all day.”

The local VFW chapter post helped coordinate the event, raised money and lined up businesses to contribute goods and services for the wounded veterans. Sandy Kriebel of the Ocean City VFW said this week the town really embraced the veterans and their families.

“Ocean City really opened their arms for these men and women and their families,” she said.