By Lauren Wanko
Some now walk with one leg or cope with a range of other war injuries, but that doesn’t keep these veterans from the ocean.
“I have disabled vets armed with surf boards, kayaks, boogie boards, paddle boards, storm the surf, attack the waves and take control and establish a beachhead,” said Michael Ricci.
Wounded Vietnam Veteran Ricci founded Operation Beachhead about five years ago.
“I live in awe and wonder that I am alive. I should have been dead quite a few times in Vietnam,” Ricci said.
Years later he mastered adaptive skiing. That inspired him to create an organization that offers free, year-round adaptive, recreational sports.
Navy Veteran John Richteer has ALS. It kept him out of the water for more than a decade until he found Operation Beachhead. Now watch him surf.
How did it feel after 12 years to get back in the water? “Fantastic! Unbelievable!” he said. He said it wasn’t hard to do. “No they adapt the equipment so you have these little handles to keep you on the surfboard. Once I saw the handles, I said, ‘Oh I can do that!'”
Air Force Veteran Kevin Karpiak says Operation Beachhead makes the seemingly impossible possible.
How so? “By showing me that I can do it, by getting me in the water,” Karpiak said.
“It’s like sea-hab. I think the ocean is good for the soul and body,” said Bruce Boyle.
“If you have any kind of PTS issue or something it kind of takes you out of that because now that you’re doing something,” said Sgt. Bill Sturges.
Retired Army Sergeant Bill Sturges lost his leg in a helicopter crash. We followed him into the water.
Bill’s about to head out on an ocean kayak all of the participants are surrounded by a team of volunteer surfers. They make sure they get out safely and they stay with them the entire ride. Operation Beachhead doesn’t just welcome participants. They also help any active duty service members, those with special needs and their families.
“We load them up from the chairs, put them on the board, we try to get them onto the lineup without big waves breaking on their heads but sometimes they get a little baptism we like to call it. I stay on the back of the board to keep it stable and the more they progress, the less work it is for us,” Boyle said.
Marine Corps Veteran John Devine lost his right leg in Vietnam. Now he loves to kayak.
“Early on I made a commitment that the leg wasn’t gonna be a factor. So I’ve been going after these challenges since that day,” Devine said.
Over the years Operation Beachhead’s served 225 participants. The volunteer-run organization’s supported by donations.
“I’m not giving anybody anything. It’s a present to me,” Ricci said.
“As a Vietnam Vet there were some dark and cloudy days. I try to tell these folks there is still a life ahead of you,” Devine said.
By the looks of it, these veterans have a lot more living to do.