MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In a recent edition of Time magazine, Joe Kline’s story made the cover as he told of young veterans seeking and making opportunities for themselves after departing active duty. He dubbed them the “new greatest generation,” having dutifully served their country and later joining the ranks of America’s businessmen and women.
“I feel the Marines here are just that – America’s new greatest generation,” said Vicki Thomas, member of Purple Heart Homes, a non-profit organization dedicated to aiding service-connected wounded veterans. “This event is a tribute to that truth and our way of recognizing all that they have done and continue to do.”
The Marines Thomas was referring to are those of Wounded Warrior Battalion – East, and the event was the two-course lunch and gift-giving day that PHH, with collaboration by the U.S. Veterans Corps and the USO of North Carolina - Jacksonville center, orchestrated for the wounded Marines with the WWBn-East barracks aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Nov. 16.
An initiative of the PHH and their second year of providing lunch and entertainment to the injured Marines, co-founder John Gallina knows what a life-altering experience combat wounds can have, serving as the driving force behind the organization’s actions.
“I was deployed to Bayji, Iraq in 2004 with the 1st Infantry Division when our Humvee hit an anti-tank mine,” said Gallina. “I sustained head and back injuries, but my buddy lost both his legs below the knees.”
The other PHH co-founder Dale Beatty returned from Iraq a double amputee. Yet, after incurring such injuries, he and Gallina found a drive to help other Purple Heart recipients through their life-changing events. The two then established PHH which, among other services, can not only refurbish veterans’ houses to meet their disabilities but, in some cases, completely rebuild them.
It is with those feelings of gratitude and recognition that brought PHH, along with the other contributing organizations, to MCB Camp Lejeune to pay respects to the wounded warriors.
“This isn’t about promoting an event or meeting someone’s agenda, but just to simply say thank you to these men and women and let them know they are truly appreciated for their sacrifices,” said Gallina. “We hope to inspire them to know that life goes on after leaving active duty and that they are never alone.”
From Marines with no visible injuries to those who use canes or wheelchairs to replace an absent leg, all were gathered in the social room of the barracks to receive a lunch of pulled pork, hush puppies, beans and coleslaw with a variety of chocolate desserts. Yet, while all the members of the battalion were injured in one way or another, all were smiling and conversing freely with one another and those of PHH.
“This is really the first major event where an organization came and did this much for us,” said Sgt. Brian McPherson, former rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and current member of WWBn-East. “Not only does it get these guys out of their rooms and interacting with everyone else, but it shows that once we transition into civilians, there are people out there to help us.”
While these Marines may never be rid of their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or receive a fully-functional limb, they have been given a better peace-of-mind following the day’s event, for after serving their country and giving more than is ever asked for, there will never be a shortage of people willing to assist them once they hang up their uniforms and look toward the horizon of civilian life.