The driver and navigator, Dennis McLaughlin and John Gerlaugh, were friends who had the bicyclist’s dream of pedaling across America when John returned home from his tour of duty as a U.S. Marine. About two years ago the two attended a fund raising dinner for wounded, returning Marines and together conceived the idea of a cross-country benefit ride specifically to promote wounded veteran awareness. Ben Maenza and Troy McLehany, also returning Marines, joined the ambitious project.
The United States’ 11-year military involvement in Afghanistan thus far has resulted in the highest casualty rate of any of the 28 coalition force countries. The American public is updated as to the daily death toll but somehow the wounded (both physically and mentally – 320,000 traumatic brain injuries to date) are glossed over.
The Iraq/Afghanistan wars have resulted in a near 90 percent combat wounded rate. After hospital release, the “average” veteran needs 19 months of care-provided service. Many have lifetime disabilities. Some have amputations.
When a student enters high school (can you remember?), often times the English department provides grade level reading lists and the school’s Advance Placement Program (AP) provides a list of the 100 “must read” books prior to college admission. On that list is Dalton Trumbo’s, “Johnny Got His Gun” (1939) which became the literary, anti-war anthem of the 1960s. It is difficult to imagine the life challenge facing the story’s protagonist as he “survives” his World War I conflict with an intact and properly functioning brain but is legless, armless, and faceless. There is a price for freedom.
Four men with familial Marine heritage, often multi-generational, are sharing riding, driving, and navigational duties on a two month fund-raising trike trip from St. Augustine, Florida to the Marine camp of Camp Pendelton in San Diego, California. These men are funding the trip personally with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly into the Semper Fi wounded warrior fund, a fund that returns 95 percent of collected monies to veterans in need. As the Semper Fi fund brochure acknowledges, “Sometimes, even heroes need help.”
If you’d like to donate, log onto: www.rideforheroes.stayclassy.org. If you’d like to follow the ride on facebook, go to: www.facebook.com/semperfi.rideforheroes. Ben Maenza is the only rider of the four who will pedal his portion of the distance coast to coast with only his hands. Ben was wounded in Afghanistan in October 2010 when he stepped onto an improvised explosive device (IED). Of the four “brothers” on this trip, he is the single, direct beneficiary of the Semper Fi fund. As a returning, wounded, bilateral amputee Marine, he had nothing when he arrived in the hospital. The fund enabled his family to be with him, it provided a care-giver, and bought him essential clothing. He will donate 100 percent of raised funds to ensure the programs’ continuation.In parting, Dennis McLaughlin summed up the experience with, “The trip is to give glory to God and our vets – freedom is not free. Semper Fi.” Semper Fi. “Semper Fidelis” – always faithful. Faithful to God. Faithful to brothers of battle. Faithful to America.