POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2010) --
U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warriors from Camp Lejeune, N.C. traveled here Sept. 10 to visit local sites and take part in the opening ceremony of the following day’s inaugural 9/11 “Remember Our Heroes Hudson Valley 5K” race.
“So many young people joined the service because of 9/11,” said Paula Zwillinger, founder of the Semper Fi Parents of Hudson Valley, which sponsored the race.
“This race was the right thing to do to give back to the community. People in this community lost friends and family on 9/11. Many parents have children who are serving or were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why I wanted the Wounded Warriors here. They represent the sacrifice of our nation. This is not a celebration; it’s a somber event, commemorating the day our world changed forever,” said Zwellinger, whose eldest son, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, was killed in action in Iraq in June 2005. Her younger son is now on active duty in the Marine Corps.
“I always wanted to join a branch of the service, and 9/11 convinced me to join the Marines. That’s why being (in New York) is important to me,” said Staff Sgt. Samuel Schoenheit of Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
“I always wanted to be part of an elite organization, and I found that opportunity in Marine Recon,” said Schoenheit, who left for boot camp four days after graduating high school in Charlotte, N.C. in 2003. He spent his entire time in the Fleet Marine Forces with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, completing two combat tours in Iraq before being severely wounded in a firefight in Afghanistan in June 2008, receiving the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in combat.
Schoenheit, along with other Marines from Wounded Warrior Battalion, were given a private tour of the Orange County Choppers design center and showroom in Newburgh, N.Y., shortly after their arrival Sept. 10. In addition to seeing the custom design process and the viewing finished products, the Marines had the rare opportunity to meet the cable TV show’s star, Paul Teutul.
They also visited the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Vails Gate, N.Y., where they learned about the history of their Purple Heart medals and were able to compare their experiences with those of American veterans of previous wars.
“It’s awesome that the Semper Fi parents were willing to help bring us here to New York, to have the opportunity to help them commemorate September eleventh,” said Sgt. Brandon Meng, who has been part of Wounded Warrior Battalion since March. “I enjoyed everything, particularly the start of the (5-kilometer) race.”
While Leathernecks from Marine Aircraft Group 49, a Marine Forces Reserve unit based in nearby Newburgh, N.Y., lined up next to soldiers and civilians from the local community to compete in the 5-kilometer race in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, the Wounded Warriors from Camp Lejeune stood proudly in formation in dress blue uniform at the starting line. They rendered honors as a U.S. Army National Guardsman played the National Anthem on his trumpet and a local bagpipe trio performed a rendition of The Marine Hymn.
“The local residents know that the Marines from (MAG-49) are here; they see the aircraft flying overhead. But I think that meeting the Marines from the local unit at the race, as well as the Wounded Warriors from Camp Lejeune, increased their understanding of who is serving in the Marine Corps and fighting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
After the race, the Marines had the opportunity to meet local veterans and local residents at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall nearby, where the after-party and awards ceremony were held.
The Semper Fi Parents Foundation presented the Marines with a plaque and various gifts, thanking them for traveling more than 500 miles to play a key role in the day’s events.
“This was definitely the best trip I’ve ever been on in the Marine Corps… the last one nearly got me killed,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Morris sardonically.
Morris, a tank mechanic from Washington, Pa., joined the Marine Corps at the age of 27, and was wounded in Afghanistan in October 2009 when a 120-pound improvised explosive device detonated under his vehicle.
“Seriously, this was exactly what I needed,” said Morris. “It felt good to get out of Camp Lejeune for awhile, clear my head, and to see how thankful so many Americans are for our service. This trip was really awesome.”