Approximately 80 first responders, combat veterans and their families visited the 9/11 Memorial as part of a tour organized by the Long Beach Waterfront Warriors and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The veterans, some relying on wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs for wounds sustained in combat, received a police escort to the Memorial and an official salute from the Port Authority Police Department.
The visitors were visibly moved by the experience. Taking in the Memorial pools, veteran Pat Johnson credits 9/11 as his impetus to join the Navy. “This is how it all got started for me,” said Johnson. “As soon as the second plane hit, I knew that I was going to war.”
Johnson, who is the president and founder of the Alabama-based nonprofit Homeless Veterans Initiative USA, was stationed in Guantanamo and struggled with homelessness and posttraumatic stress disorder following his service. “This is about 16 years that I’ve been waiting for this moment, to see this place,” he said. “It’s just a real humbling experience, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Marine veteran Matt Bein visited One World Trade Center two years ago, but he couldn’t bring himself to come to the 9/11 Memorial at the time. “I was crying on the bus trying to get off [today],” he admits. “But this is part of the history that we all fought for.”
Based in Long Beach, N.Y., Waterfront Warriors coordinates relaxing beach vacations and other activities for wounded, ill and injured veterans and their families, in addition to providing volunteer assistance to veterans’ hospitals and other likeminded institutions.
The Waterfront Warriors hosted a 5k race this weekend in addition to a “welcome home” parade and a deep-sea fishing trip for this group of veterans and their families.
Bein was astounded by the group’s generosity. “I haven’t seen a community come together like that to give thanks and appreciation,” he said. “I’m not nothing from nobody, I’m just a country boy who works on a farm back home in Alabama, so to have that kind of response from people is amazing.”
By 9/11 Memorial Staff