BOSTON, MASS., APR. 27 — The 4th annual Boston Wounded Vets Run (BWVR) is another year older, another year stronger, another year bigger, badder, better, and even grander and more prestigious and honorable than ever before. There just aren’t enough superlatives to describe what a wonderful event this has become.
When the VA cannot aid the most severely wounded returning soldiers, enter the BWVR that selects the most severely wounded soldiers in the area and affords them whatever it is they need to feel as whole as possible again; be it housing modifications, or transportation, the ride raises funds for the necessities to make their lives more normal.
In the Massachusetts area, Superman-like Marine Corps hero Andrew Biggio has spawned a deep-rooted desire to aid the severely wounded, and his passion has infectiously spread to volunteers who stand beside him, share his vision and work their fingers to the bone doing whatever it takes to put on an event of this magnitude. Each Monday they meet at the ITAM Post in Revere and strategize, coordinate, orchestrate, obtain donations, raffles and food, and reach out to the general public sharing the mission statement. Without this grassroots network, pulling off one of the most prestigious and grand motorcycle events ever to grace the asphalt here in the Commonwealth never would happen.
After a year’s worth of diligent planning and preparation by a core group of 35 volunteers, the BWVR came to fruition on Sunday, April 27, as throngs of motorcyclists from both near and far braved Mother Nature’s wicked wrath of biting cold and stinging wet rain to be a part of the run. This event’s magnitude is quickly reaching that of a small motorcycle rally, never mind a one-day ride! And there’s so much excitement and desire to be involved with this event that the passion has spread to other states. There was a Wounded Vets Runs in Phoenix last month, one will be held at the end of the summer in New York, another is planned for Connecticut, one in California, and the enthusiasm swells as more states catch wind of this influential event.
Participants came from as far away as California, Florida and New York to be a part of what’s swiftly becoming one of the largest rides in the New England area; one that rivals the old Ronald McDonald ride of the 1990’s that saw thousands of riders. The purpose and passion of this ride has spilled over into the community and now also boasts hundreds of non-riders that have been smitten by the wonderful mission of this event; helping our most severely wounded warriors with transportation and housing modifications, and honoring other community members that are well deserving.
Motorcyclists rode in by the dozens, braving the chilly 38-degree temperature and cold, prickling rain to be a part of it all; to meet and to say thank you to the wounded warriors who left their limbs and well being abroad while fighting for our flag and our freedoms here. Attendees were also eager to meet Andrew Biggio, the man whose brainchild this event is, to shake his hand and thank him too.
The ride was again escorted by numerous police departments that led us through the various communities whose streets were lined with spectators waving American flags, cheering on riders, and holding signs that read “THANK YOU VETERANS!” It was an exhilarating sight to behold as hundreds at a time lined up along the route.
The magnitude of this ride reached far into the halls of the State House, grabbing the attention of Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and bringing him out to address the crowd on this frigid, overcast day, as well as Representative Carlo Basile (East Boston) who, after working with Andrew Biggio, was moved to sponsor legislation (Valor Act II) in Massachusetts that would allot a $30,000 housing modification stipend to any Massachusetts wounded veteran returning from service. The bill also addresses other health welfare issues returning veterans encounter.
Also on hand was Francesco Urena, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran recently appointed as Commissioner of Veterans Services for the City of Boston, who also thanked the crowd for all the good they’ve accomplished with this event. Among the riders and speakers was Kevin Brown, a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel who was elected as the chairman of the entire Mohegan Tribe, who also spoke to the crowd. Marine Tim Chambers, known as Rolling Thunder’s “Saluting Marine,” stood at permanent salute while each of the riders passed by him as they made their way into the entrance at Suffolk Downs Race Track in East Boston.
This year Michael Kennedy, a Boston firefighter, retired Marine, member of veterans riding group American Infidels and beloved and generous community-oriented man who recently lost his life along with firefighter Ed Walsh battling a major fire recently, were remembered and honored as well during this ride. Michael did this ride every year and many riders felt he was there in spirit.
A corps of drummers played as the bikes rolled into the parking lot. Inside the gates were 43 vendors lined up representing various businesses; it was like a mini bike week! The aroma of freshly barbequed beefy hamburgers and hot dogs wafted on smoke streams mingling with the clouds through the air at one end of the racetrack. When the ceremonies began, all attendees were called to the stage at the other end of the track. There were several groups of color guards and a string of bagpipers, as well as dignitaries from Gold Star families, legislators and heads of many prestigious organizations. All eyes and ears were open, and heartstrings were tugged by the ceremonies that followed the singing of the national anthem. There was even a “flyover” performed by the Massachusetts State Police.
The recipients chosen to benefit from this year’s ride are SPC Andy Kingsley of Athol, Massachusetts, MSGT Joseph Deslauriers of Bellingham, Massachusetts, and Cpl Kevin Dubois of Rhode Island. Army CPL Andy Kingsley, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, was severely wounded in 2010 during combat operations in Afghanistan. Andy’s FOB was bombarded by enemy mortar fire when shrapnel ripped through his body. Due to his injuries, doctors amputated his right leg above the knee, as well as some fingers and toes. Andy struggles to wear a prosthetic leg because of how high his amputation is and he is often confined to a wheelchair. Marine sniper Cpl Kevin Dubois was severely wounded in Afghanistan during combat operations in July 2011. Kevin, like many other infantrymen, fell victim to an IED and his injury is one of the worst in the country. Doctors were forced to amputate both of his legs, hips and much of his waist. Kevin also cannot wear prosthetic legs comfortably and is mostly wheelchair bound. His spirits are high, though, and the wonderful news—he has a baby on the way!
Air Force MSgt Joseph Deslauriers had one of the most dangerous jobs in Afghanistan during 2011. As an EOD tech it was Joe’s job to disarm any roadside bombs that friendly forces came in contact with. On a routine mission Joe stepped on a secondary IED and it resulted in devastating injuries. Joe became one of the few triple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs and his left arm. He, too, is in high spirits, and is now medically retired from the Air Force.
Not only did the ride honor those deserving veterans, but also first responders of 9/11. Police, fire, ambulance drivers, metalworkers, canine rescue—all were acknowledged with plaques of appreciation. Also recognized were first responders at the Boston Marathon bombing last year, not to mention the Gold Star Mothers, Fathers and families of those lost to war. Awards were given to all, and heartfelt words of thanks expressed.
After those presentations, all of the previous years’ honored recipients were called to the stage. Each wounded veteran received a locket with his branch of service displayed in high relief on it with ashes from 9/11 that one of the first responders had brought back. One of the metalworkers from 9/11 had fashioned a cross from shrapnel from the beams of the World Trade Center and presented it to Andrew Biggio. At this point, Andrew tried desperately to hold back his emotions, as did the entire audience. The service at Suffolk Downs was of the most moving I’ve witnessed in quite a long time, if not ever.
After concluding the ceremonies the crowds were entertained by the TIGERLILY band that donated their services to the event, as crowds mingled and meandered through the maze of vendors. Authorities estimated about 3,000 riders, and the first tally of monies raised tipped upwards of $100,000. Not bad for a miserable riding day! When the masses piled out through the gates to their bikes to head home in the cold, dank early evening, Mother Nature sent a beautiful sign for all to see: a most colorful rainbow! What a fitting end to a wonderful, valorous day.
This event is a “must do,” so if you didn’t make it to this year’s ride, put it on your calendar for next year. Trust me; it’s an event not to be missed. Every detail’s been meticulously planned and executed to the nth degree, and the ceremonies were so moving that you could feel the elevated emotions lift the dreary clouds.
Visit www.theyfoughtweride.com to find out how to get involved or for details on the next ride.