“The 72 hours of Memorial Day Weekend were the longest of my life,” said Wendy Brooks, mother of Cpl Harry Brooks.
Cpl. Brooks, a 22-year-old from a Chicago suburb, was injured over Memorial Day weekend during his second tour of duty with the Marines. While on top of a roof in Sangin, Afghanistan, a rocket-propelled grenade hit him. He lost most of his dominant left arm from the blast, and has had 21 surgeries to date.
Brooks and his mother were one of several injured Marines and family members flown in from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, by Long Beach’s Waterfront Warriors to enjoy a week in Long Beach and see New York City, including the former World Trade Center site.
Last Sunday, they joined about 500 people at the third annual Holiday for Heroes event at the Allegria Hotel, where about 300 care packages were prepared to send to troops overseas, to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and the Northport V.A. for the holidays.
Rock legend and Long Beach resident Joan Jett was on hand to speak with the soldiers and distribute CDs. Jett told them that she was truly touched by the sacrifices they and their families have made.
“I have done this for a little over 20 years and I am honored to go out and entertain the troops in war zones,” she said when telling reporters about her experiences with the USO Tours. “It gives you a little insight into what they go through daily.”
The Long Island Children’s Museum donated all the art materials so that children could make festive cards to put into each care package. Long Beach Catholic School’s Brownie Troop 2352 made the cards and packed up the packages for the troops. They also sang Christmas carols. “The girls want the troops to have a great Christmas and are doing their part to make that happen,” said Troop Leader Roseann Field.
Lance Cpl. Jonathan Oliveira, of the 3-6 Marines unit, noted how much the packages would mean to other soldiers. He joined the military more than three years ago and served in Marjah, Afghanistan, where he sustained a blast to his right hand and had multiple surgeries.
“This week has been a nice break from the hospital and the regular routine,” said Oliveira, a Newark native who is no stranger to New York City or Long Beach.
He is debating whether to go back to school or reenlist in the Marines. He is fascinated by space and would consider working for NASA. He may also participated in Operation Warfighter, a program run by the Department of Defense that enables recovering military members to receive an internship with various federal agencies.
The Waterfront Warriors, an organization that assists wounded, ill and injured military men and women on their return to civilian life, presented Allen Rosenberg, owner of the Allegria, with a plaque.
“It is a huge honor to be a part of this,” Rosenberg said. “We are not the heroes, these soldiers are, and we look forward to doing this event again next year.”
The wrap party also saw Santa visit on a Long Beach Fire Department truck, and he took pictures with children. The event came to close with the lighting of the Christmas tree.
“Even after the troops come home, the focus needs to stay on them,” said Jamie Lynch, president of Waterfront Warriors. “They will have these injuries for the rest of their lives and will need our help.”