GULFPORT, Mississippi — The phrase stitched on the back of the Combat Vets' black leather vests says it all: Vets helping vets.
The motorcycle association, along with the Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America, made the lives of four Southern veterans much easier Wednesday -- with more assistance for others readily available. During a brief ceremony at the Paralyzed Veterans Center in Gulfport, Patrick Peterson, of Point Clear, Ala., Willie Harvey Jr., of Jackson, and Kurt Ladner, of Gulfport, were respectively presented with a hand bike and two motorized wheelchairs.
An additional scooter was earmarked for Gulfport's Tom Ward, who was unable to attend the ceremony. Other assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs were also donated.
Larry Casteel, Combat Vet chapter commander, said he was glad his organization could do its part to help a handful of vets who have fallen through the cracks.
Life changing donation
Peterson's face lit up when the Combat Vets wheeled his hand bike off of the trailer.
"It's fantastic," he said. "Just awesome."
It took Peterson no time at all to saddle the bike and take it for a spin in the parking lot. Peterson, an Army veteran, said the bike should do wonders for his spirits as well as his health.
"We want to stay as strong and independent as possible," he said. "This changes everything. ... If you feel good about yourself you're going to go out there and display yourself. Even though we realize the chairs are recognized first, we would rather for the individual to be seen before the chair. This will give us the confidence, energy and focus to do it."
After getting in his new scooter, Harvey immediately zipped off for a test lap around the building.
"Don't get any speeding tickets on those bikes," Casteel shouted to Harvey as he turned the corner out of sight.
Harvey, an Air Force Veteran, said he has heard of veterans waiting months to make any traction with the VA.
"A chair like this makes life easier for me," he said. "The process of going through the VA is kind of delayed. These guys show up and bring us all of these chairs and we can get them right here. I'm proud we have people to help us like this.
"It's veterans helping veterans."
Any veteran who is in need of help, or person who has wheelchairs, walkers or hand bikes available, can contact Casteel at 861-5857 or fellow Combat vet Cat Aguda at 297-7207.