SELBYVILLE – Spectators lined the streets in the Selbyville community of Bayside last week to welcome visiting wounded veterans and their families.
Last Friday, 32 wounded veterans and their families received a warm welcome from community members along routes 1 and 54 as they made their way by bus to a concert at the Freeman Stage.
For miles, residents and visitors along the corridors cheered and greeted the families as motorcycles and police and fire department vehicles escorted them to their destination.
Each year, Operation SEAs the Day, a local nonprofit, works with local homeowners and businesses to provide a free, weeklong vacation in Bethany Beach for wounded veteran families.
Annette Reeping, media chair and board member for the nonprofit, said Operation SEAs the Day works with the National Wounded Warrior Project and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes annually to identify wounded veteran families in need of recuperation and community.
“Each year, we bring them to the beach the day after Labor Day and they stay until the following Sunday,” she said. “They come from around the country.”
While the yearly retreat initially began in the Bethany Beach community, Reeping said the Warrior Family Beach Week has since expanded to include supporters and hundreds of sponsors from surrounding towns.
“People are really proud of this program and what it does for these families,” she said.
With the support of volunteers and donations from residents and businesses, Reeping said each family receives their own home to use for the week, a stocked kitchen, coupons, gifts and free activities.
“Families can participate in tennis, golf, kayaking, boat excursions, fishing, therapeutic horseback riding, a ladies’ spa day for the caregivers, family portraits and more,” she said.
Reeping noted the week’s festivities culminate into a community-wide motorcade parade, where residents come out to show their appreciation for the veterans’ service and sacrifice.
“In the last five years, all of the community members have come out wearing their red, white and blue and waving the American flag as the families arrive,” she said. “The families come off the buses and they just can’t believe they are being thanked and honored.”
Unlike other organizations, which focus on the individual and physical healing, Reeping said Operation SEAs the Day focuses on the family.
“This program seems to hit on the emotional side,” she said. “Wives get to be wives, husbands get to be husbands and children get to be children.”
Founders Diane Pohanka, Becky Johns and Richard Katon launched the Operation SEAs the Day Warrior Family Beach Week in 2013 to show their appreciation to wounded veterans and their families. After this year, the nonprofit will have impacted more than 1,000 individuals.
“We learned the first year that only they understand each other and the world they live in,” Reeping said. “What occurs is a bond. They all have the same mindset and it becomes somewhat powerful in their healing process.”