Two dozen wounded Marines will be going on a once-in-a-lifetime rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, sponsored in part by The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program.
OCW’s involvement in the 10-day trip will include the provision of some meals; other arrangements are being finalized.
The project is the brainchild of a retired Marine, Hank Detering, who is a member of American Legion Post 945 in Pennsylvania. Detering, a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, hatched the plan as a way to give back to today’s servicemembers.A couple of years ago, Detering was invited to be on a panel discussion following a presentation of “Johnny Got His Gun.” At the end of the play, the panel was asked, “What can we do for the veterans returning from the war today?”
That was the cue that Detering needed.
“I came away from that panel feeling like I needed to do something for the servicemen and women coming home,” he said. “I had the idea of a river trip because I had heard of other groups working with amputee veterans, teaching them to kayak. I had heard of a blind veteran who had kayaked through the Grand Canyon. He had a lot of people with him, but he navigated all the way himself.
“It would be a really good thing for us to do.”
Detering is a board member of the Grand Canyon River Runners Association, a nonprofit group that works to preserve public access to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Detering proposed the idea and the other directors agreed. The association is now actively fundraising for 24 patients from the Marine Corp Wounded Warrior Regiment to go down the rapids this August, along with support staff such as health-care professionals. The plan is to work with other military branches on trips for 2016 and beyond.
“One hundred percent of the donations we receive are going toward getting these guys on the river,” Detering said. Promotional costs such as flyers and printouts and other bills will be paid for by the board’s operating funds, he said.
To donate, visit www.gcriverrunners.org.
Detering’s first experience with the Grand Canyon was with his daughter, Susan, a river guide who has been on more than 60 trips. They both see these trips as life-changing experiences.
“During every trip I saw how the Grand Canyon affected the people and affected families in a positive way,” Detering said. “I see kids who didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to be with their parents, do a complete turnaround to where they were having a great time.
“One kid at the beginning of the trip didn’t want to be anywhere near his parents. Six days later, he came up to me as I was fixing dinner and he said, ‘My dad is cool.’"