JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — About 130 wounded troops will get to spend the holidays at home thanks to a local veterans group.
After collecting money all year, members of the Beirut Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart spent Thursday writing checks for wounded warriors and Purple Heart recipients to help them with travel expenses.
“I remember when I was active duty and I didn’t have enough money to go home on leave,” said Verl Matthews, commander of the chapter. “I would hitchhike from California to my home in Idaho, and I don’t want any of these guys to have to do that.”
The Beirut chapter of the MOPH collected around $280,000 for the effort, said John Cooney, adjutant for the chapter.
MOPH paid up 80 percent of the service members’ travel costs, or $500, if they were driving and a limit of around $1,000 if they were flying, Cooney said.
Sgt. John Dozier, a wounded warrior and a Purple Heart recipient, said he and his wife haven’t been home to see her family in West Palm Beach, Fla. in almost three years.
He was one of about 130 wounded warriors and Purple Heart recipients to get a check from the MOPH to help him pay for a trip there. Dozier said if it wasn’t for the $500 he received from the MOPH, he and his family would not be going home for Christmas.
“It’s a huge help,” he said. “It’s a nice relief to be able to travel down to see family and not have to stress out about how to get there.”
Sgt. Sendio Martz, a wounded warrior and a native of Missouri City, Texas, said he hasn’t been home to see his family in almost four years. He received $900 from MOPH to help pay for his wife and two children to fly with him to Texas over the holidays.
“It’s always been for financial reasons that we couldn’t go home,” Martz said. “And this money, it means a lot.
“I’m really grateful.”
The Wounded Warrior Christmas Leave Fund started seven years ago, when the MOPH national commander visited the Wounded Warrior barracks at Camp Lejeune and asked the Marines how his organization could help them, Matthews said.
The Marines said they wanted nothing more to travel home for the holidays, and so the fund was created. They raised $101,000 that year, and the amount has steadily increased each year since.
While the MOPH members do most of the fundraising themselves, they had a little help this year from Richlands high school senior Tara Maready, who wanted to contribute to the wounded warriors for her senior project.
“I grew up in a military town, and that’s really the only tie I have,” Maready said. “I really respect the military and I know I could never join ... But I wanted to give back in some way.”
Maready raised a little more than $218, which she donated to the Christmas Leave Fund. She said seeing the wounded warriors and Purple Heart recipients so grateful for the money was so touching that once she left the event she was going to “get in the car and ball my eyes out.”
MOPH National Commander Bruce McKenty said he hopes the Christmas Leave Fund, which is unique to Eastern North Carolina, will one day be available to wounded warriors across the country.
“I would like to see something like this spread nationally,” he said. “It’s wonderful that these guys will go out and raise almost $300,000 to help these wounded warriors go home for the holidays.”