Members of the Nassau County Firefighters Operation Wounded Warrior project are making plans for their 13th year of convoys bringing clothing, iPads and goodwill to young veterans in military hospitals where they’re recovering from wounds sustained on the Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields.
The ongoing effort has gained considerable momentum and manpower since its start among the volunteers in the Stewart Manor Fire Department. Approximately 35 fire departments in Nassau County are currently engaged in the project now.
“We continue to grow in size and we’re doing better with our donations and fundraisers so we’re able to do more,” said Joseph O’Grady, ex-chief and 33-year veteran of the Floral Park Fire Department, who serves as chairman of the board of Operation Wounded Warrior.
This year he said between 65 and 70 volunteer firefighters from departments throughout the county, including Floral Park, New Hyde Park, the Willistons, Bellerose, Valley Stream, Lynbrook, Roslyn and Garden City will be departing in three convoys during the first week in December.
O’Grady said the first convoy will depart for Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Dec. 6, with the second convoy leaving for Camp Lejeune, also in North Carolina, the following day. The third convoy will head for the national military hospital in Bethesda, MD and Fort Belvoir in Virginia on Dec. 8.
Last year the firefighters brought a washer and dryer to the Fisher House—a facility for recuperating vets and their families—at Fort Bragg. This year, they’ll be bringing a barbecue by request and an elliptical exercise machine.
“We continue to bring iPads as that’s what requested by the doctors and the soldiers,” O’Grady said.
Thomas Smith, ex-chief and 31-year veteran of the New Hyde Park Fire Department, said $42,000 was recently raised at an auction for the cause at department headquarters. The event, which received support from the Gladiator Fund, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club and the Does Club, drew more than 200 residents from the local community.
This marks the 11th year Smith will be joining in one of the convoys for what he’s always found to be a remarkable experience.
“For me it’s always been a humbling way to start the holidays,” he said. “What always stands out to me is when we go down to thank them for their service to their country, they can’t thank us enough for coming.”
Bill Graham, ex-chief and 20-year veteran of the Garden City Fire Department, has been involved in Operation Wounded Warrior since its inception. He said the only difference now is that many of the recovering veterans have battle scars that are not visible.
“There are people who still have a need. When you meet them, they’re genuinely shocked that people would take the time to come and meet them,” he said.
Graham recalled an encounter with an Army sergeant in Walter Reed hospital more than 10 years ago that remains vivid in his memory because of the man’s sense of commitment as a soldier. After losing two limbs to a bomb that exploded while he was on a patrol and with a wife and a young daughter at home, his thoughts were with his comrades.
“Fresh off the battlefield, his wounds were severe and all he could think about were his fellow soldiers in the field. I told him they were fine because of what he taught them,” Graham said.
Donations for this year’s convoys can be made at Floral Park Fire Department Heaquarters, Vernon Street, Floral Park 11011 or New Hyde Park Protection Co., 11 South 5th Street, New Hyde Park 11040 on Dec. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monetary donations are preferred, but Stop & Shop and Target gift cards are welcome, along with fire department, patriotic T-shirts and New York sports team apparel; white socks (especially short ankle socks) and athletic shorts; basketball shorts and athletic sleeveless shirts; break-away pants and bicycle gloves (neoprene is best for wheelchairs); new toys for preschool and grammar school age children of the wounded soldiers; diapers and baby care items for infants.