Thousands turn out to support wounded veterans

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Thousands turn out to support wounded veterans



By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8184

Published Friday, September 16, 2011   |  617 Words  |  

"It's a blessing," Air Force veteran Jason Ellis said Friday night as he looked at the crowd of thousands of people at the Lt. Dan Band concert in Beaufort.

Wounded by an improvised explosive device in 2003, Ellis said he didn't have a homecoming celebration when he returned to the states. It's been a tough transition, and he said he still doesn't know what to say when people thank him for his service.

The 36-year-old, Tampa, Fla., resident didn't have to say a word Friday night, when he and 150 other wounded veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice.

Part of several days of events including a 5K run, bike race and film showing, the Lt. Dan Band concert in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park attracted residents and visitors alike. Despite the $25 ticket price -- the show was free last year -- thousands crowded the park with chairs and blankets.

"I've been in tears all day, between this and seeing all the Marine graduates today and the families, it's just been very moving to see all the military and what a military town this is," Kathy Ray said.

After hearing about the Lt. Dan Weekend, which benefits wounded soldiers and their families through the Independence Fund, she and her husband, Mike, made the trip from Charleston. They each served 25 years in the Navy.

David and Natalie Viar of Aiken were on vacation in the area this week when they learned about the benefit. With several cousins in the military and a best friend in the Army who has served three tours in Iraq, supporting wounded veterans was the least the couple could do, David Viar said.

"It's going to such a great cause. I think there should be stuff like this going on every weekend across the country," he said.

People began trickling in as soon as the doors opened at 5 p.m., with opening bands beginning at 6:30 p.m. Gary Sinese and the Lt. Dan Band took the stage at about 8:30 p.m., after several short videos about efforts to help wounded veterans and the presentation of a bike to one of the veterans.

"It's amazing," Army veteran Dennis Leonard of Hummelstown, Pa., said. "There's a lot of support, but when you see a turn out like this, it lets you know how much support is really there."

Leonard, a 29-year-old Army veteran, was in a vehicle struck by an IED in Iraq in 2007. The men in the rear seats were not injured. The soldier sitting next to him died. Leonard lost his legs.

He spent the first few days of Lt. Dan Weekend talking to the other veterans the organization that brought them to Beaufort for the benefit.

"You can talk to people about it, but until they've gone through the same thing they just don't understand it. This gives me an idea of what I can do to give back to other people like everyone has given to us here," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

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