SELBYVILLE – Thirty-two visiting wounded veteran and their families received a warm welcome from residents last week as their motorcade made its way from Bethany Beach to Selbyville in an annual parade to honor their service and sacrifice.
For miles, residents and visitors along routes 1 and 54 cheered and greeted the families, escorted by motorcycles, Jeeps, police and fire departments, as they made their way to a concert at the Freeman Stage last Friday.
For five years, Operation SEAs the Day, a local nonprofit, has worked with local homeowners and businesses to provide a free, week-long vacation in Bethany Beach for these wounded military veterans and their families.
This year, the 32 families come from several East Coast states from Maine to Georgia. Among the participants are 25 new families, five alumni families and two senior alumni families.
Annette Reeping, Operation SEAs the Day media chair and board member, said the organization works with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes to identify wounded veteran families in need of recuperation and community.
“We learned wounded veteran families are most comfortable talking and being with other wounded veteran families because they understand their difficulties,” she said.
Reeping said the families’ experiences at the beach help “wives feel like wives, husbands feel like husbands and children feel like children.”
“We hope it helps in their road to recovery,” she said.
Reeping said local residents and businesses donate their homes, time and services each year to accommodate and entertain the families throughout the week. While the participants aren’t required to do any activities, Reeping said they have the opportunity to partake in spa days, fishing, boating, golfing and more for no charge.
“There’s nothing they have to do,” she said. “If they want to just sit on the beach they can do that.”
Reeping said the week’s festivities culminate into a community-wide parade, where residents show their appreciation for the veterans’ service and sacrifice.
“It’s just an amazing, patriotic experience,” she said.
Reeping said founders Diane Pohanka, Becky Johns and Richard Katon started the event in 2013 as a way to show their appreciation to wounded veterans and their families.
Since then, several local businesses and homeowners have supported the organization’s cause, which has impacted nearly 700 individuals.
“It’s a program that’s really brought the community together,” she said.
While the parade is often a highlight in the families’ week, Reeping said the entire event has a lasting, positive impact on the wounded veterans and their caregivers.
“They feel embraced and appreciated for the first time they tell us,” she said.