Wounded Warriors celebrate early Christmas with big donations

8 Dec 2006 | Cpl. Rose A. Muth

Christmas is a time to celebrate family traditions, enjoy good food with family and friends and wait for Santa to visit and leave presents under the Christmas tree. For Marines and sailors at the Wounded Warrior Barracks, Christmas came a little early as members of various fire departments from Long Island, N.Y., delivered presents for the upcoming holiday, Dec. 8.

Before starting the long drive from Long Island, the fire department started a gift drive called “Operation Wounded Warrior,” and collected enough presents to fill a 26-foot moving truck, said Ronald J. Sopp, Fire Chief, Stewart Manor Fire Department, Long Island.

“We have a firefighter who is a former Marine, and he heard of the Wounded Warrior Barracks down here. He got in contact with some people and we took it from there,” Sopp said. “We did something similar to this last year. We collected different items and donated them to the (National Naval Medical Center) in Bethesda, Maryland. We noticed there were some comfort items missing from the rooms, and visitors might forget something as simple as a toothbrush. We wanted them to be comfortable in their rooms so we took that idea and thought it would be a great thing to do for the Marines down here.”

What started as a small community gift drive, turned into a bigger event when local firehouses heard of what the Stewart Manor Fire Department was doing.

“We started getting donations from other fire stations who wanted to help show their appreciation for the sacrifices the Marines and sailors have given for our country, so we decided to open it up to them as well,” Sopp said. “The response was huge. We were still receiving gifts when we were already packed up to drive down here Thursday night. The excess gifts are being packed up and sent to the troops serving overseas.”

After making the 13-hour drive, volunteers from the fire department arrived and visited with the wounded Marines and sailors and off-loaded the many boxes of presents.

“I think it’s great of them to come and drive all the way down from Long Island to visit us and deliver the presents,” said Lance Cpl. Jason D. Honican, wounded warrior and infantryman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “I’ve been here three months and the support the unit gets is amazing. All the donations from the firefighters is certainly going to help lift the Christmas spirit around the barracks.”

One of the firefighters, who is also a Marine veteran once stationed at Camp Lejeune, wanted to help deliver the presents to show his appreciation for the sacrifices the Marines and sailors are making fighting the War on Terrorism.

“The Marine Corps did a lot for me when I was stationed here years ago, and I jumped on the chance to come here and deliver the gifts to the Marines and sailors,” said Eddie D’Avanzo, former mechanic with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, now a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department. “It’s great to come back to a Marine Corps base and meet the Marines who are doing great things for our country.”

Once all the presents were off-loaded and placed inside the Wounded Warrior Barracks, and the firefighters chatted with the Marines and sailors, Sopp presented Lt. Col. Timothy A. Maxwell, officer-in-charge of the Wounded Warrior Barracks, with a plaque dedicated to the wounded warriors for their hard work and sacrifices they’ve made to help fight the War on Terrorism.  

“We dedicate this plaque to all the wounded warriors for everything you are doing to help protect our great nation,” Sopp said. “Words can’t describe the sacrifices and hard work you are doing to help keep our nation free. We want to let you know how much we appreciate everything you’re doing for us.”

Maxwell thanked the firefighters for coming down and hand-delivering the donations and said, “the donations will be handed out and will be greatly appreciated by the Marines, sailors and their families. We want to thank you for all the hard work you do to support us here at home and keep us safe.”

Shortly afterward, the firefighters departed the barracks and prepared to convoy up to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and meet up with other Long Island firefighters, to pass gifts out to wounded warriors stationed there during the holidays.