Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wounded Warrior Trip to NYC

One of the extraordinary opportunities we have had due to Allen's injury was our trip to NYC.  Right before we left Walter Reed, I received an email from a lady named Lynda Thomson whom we had met while Allen was an inpatient.  Lynda works for the FDNY and had told me that sometimes they sponsor trips for wounded warriors and their families to go to NYC.  I had told her how much we would love that.  Little did I know, our wish was about to come true.  

The Free Masons of New York were sponsoring a trip for several families and Lynda was organizing it.  She remembered us from Walter Reed and emailed me and asked me to call her.  As soon as I was able to I made that phone call.  Lynda told me that they had a trip they would like us to come on and needed to know if we were interested.  I immediately let her know we wouldn't miss it for the world.  We were thrilled.

The first week of May, 2008, Allen, Makale, Dreyson, and I boarded a plane to LaGuardia.  We were all so excited.  We were going to be spending the next week in NYC with 7 other wounded warrior families.  Our instructions were to look for the FDNY guys and vehicles that were going to pick us up from the airport.  

Our flight was great and we were met at the airport by some firefighters.  We then loaded the van and went to Nathan's Hot Dog Stand on Coney Island where we met Joe from the Masonic Lodge and Lynda.  They were both phenomenal people and we had a great meal at the famous Nathan's.  After eating, we caught up with the rest of the families at the new memorial wall for 9/11 on Coney Island.  We took some pictures and had some time to look at the wall.  It is a very nice memorial and has a lot of meaning for a group of wounded warriors.  Next, our family and Joe headed to the aquarium at Coney Island.  The other families had already gone through as they had earlier flights.  We then went to Fort Hamilton where we stayed for our trip.  We had an awesome room there that was filled with all sorts of goodies.  Shirts, toys, FDNY stuff, candy, cookies, chocolates, you name it, they had thought of it!!  That evening we went to dinner on Fort Hamilton at the officer's club.  The group of WWII POW's were there, as well as a ton of other people.  It was nice to have an entire week to honor us and our sacrifices.

Each morning we met as a group for breakfast in the hotel lobby.  We would then get on the FDNY family bus and take off for the day.  Each day was filled with fun stuff for all of us to do.  (I am going to try to remember this the best I can, as I am writing it a year after.  I wish I would have written all of this down when it happened.  It is hard to believe that it has been a year already.)  

One day we went to Ground Zero and to the tribute center.  This was very emotional and moving for us.  I remember on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 and how much that day sticks in my mind.  Of course, the 9/11 also sticks in my mind.  But the 5th anniversary really hit me hard.  I never realized that 9/11 would personally affect me the way it did until the 5th anniversary, and I was at home with 2 kids and my husband was deployed to Iraq.  When the events of 9/11 happened, I wasn't even married and hardly knew Allen.  So, it just really hit me on the 5th anniversary and therefore going to ground zero and the tribute center was pretty emotional.  We were actually able to go all the way down into ground zero and they stopped construction for us while we were there.  One of the firefighters, actually sang a hymn while we were down there, half in arabic and half in english.  It was beautiful.  

Another day we went to the statue of liberty.  We rode on a FDNY fireboat to the island and had a beautiful show along the way.  Another FDNY fireboat sprayed the harbor with red, white, and blue water.  It was amazing!!  The crew and everyone involved in this day were incredible.  It is a day we will never forget.  

The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock were both a lot of fun.  Out in front of the Empire State Building we were serenaded by the FDNY bagpipers, well, two of them anyway.  They played several songs and ended up drawing quite a crowd.  They were so cool.  I had not ever seen a bagpipe up close!!  It was quite an honor to have them play for us!!

One evening we were invited to a black tie event at the Natural History Museum.  It was fun to get all dressed up and to see the other's beautiful dresses.  And of course, all the men in their dress uniforms were awesome!  The event was for the Free Mason's and since they had sponsored our trip we were invited.  Here, we got to meet Bernie Williams from the Yankees.  After words we were all starving so we stopped by the deli from the movie When Harry Met Sally to grab some food.  It was delicious and a lot of fun!!  The kids had a ball this night too.  They all hung out together in a hotel room with one of the firefighters and his family and Lynda's niece and her friend.  They did a great job with the kids in a very tiny space!

Many of our meals were in Little Italy with fabulous Italian food.  It was a lot of fun seeing the different areas of the city and getting to experience so much.  On Sunday afternoon, we went to the Diva's with Heart concert at Radio City Music Hall.  The concert was Dianna Ross, Gladys Knight, Chaka Kahn, and Patti LaBelle.  It was amazing!!  It lasted about 4 hours or so.  Wow is all I can say.  While we attended this event, Lynda took the kids to Toys R Us and to the Hershey's Factory.  They too had a lot of fun!  

Another thing we got to do was tour the Yankee Stadium.  This was the old Yankee Stadium, not the new one.  We could see the new one but we are glad we got to see the old one before it was torn down.  Another highlight was hanging out in the firehouses.  We were able to eat lunch in a couple of them and it was a lot of fun just being with the guys in their houses.  The firehouse museum was also fun.  The memorial there is emotional like the other ones and dedicated strictly to the firefighters.

One day we went to a fabulous bakery in Brooklyn.  I am going to have to look through my stuff to find the name of it, but it was incredible.  The pastries looked more like art, than something you could eat.  They let us choose anything we wanted.  Allen fell in love with cannoli and they gave him like a dozen to go which he ended up eating each morning for breakfast!!  I'm sure he would have them delivered if he could!!

One evening we went to the Masonic Lodge and were the guests of a dinner and magic show.  The kids really enjoyed the magician and it was nice to be able to talk with some of the masons who had made our trip possible.  We also attended their yearly meeting and the wounded warriors performed their color guard.  It was a great honor to share this with them.

Our last night there we went to dinner at Mars 2112 in Times Square.  This was for the kids mostly but it was a great time.  Allen actually had a major flashback/anxiety attack there.  Lynda had a couple of the guys take him to the firehouse in Times Square where he ended up eating dinner and hanging out till we were finished.  He had a great time with them and I am so thankful they were so great with us.  This entire trip, they were very cautious and aware of our needs and totally catered to us.  It was incredible.  After Allen was gone to the firehouse, I went back in and had dinner.  I was able to sit at a table with WWII POW Ralph and with a lady who has become a great friend of mine, Barbara Aran.  I'm so thankful Lynda insisted on me letting the guys take care of Allen so I could enjoy my evening.  Otherwise I would have never had the chance to know Barbara like I do.  She is wonderful and is such a great friend to us.  I hope we get to go back to NY sometime so we can see her and all of our wonderful friends there again.  

While our entire trip was wonderful, meeting all of these incredible people was the best for me.  Hearing the stories of the WWII POWS, hanging out with the FDNY people who all have such a story to tell as well, the Free Masons, and all the others was my favorite part of the trip.  We made some lifelong friends from this trip and I will forever be grateful for this trip of a lifetime.

We can't say thanks enough to the Free Masons or to Lynda Thomson for this trip.  

Even Now..........Gina