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'Angels of Mercy,' Others Descend With Super Bowl Party

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2005 – The full-house audience sat transfixed by former Beatle Paul McCartney, belting out the song "Get Back" on the large television screen showing the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime entertainment.

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Six NFL representatives came from New York to Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House hotel for a special Super Bowl XXXIX party Feb. 6. They brought NFL T-shirts, hats, little football dogs, posters, pennants and other memorabilia for patients being treated at the hospital for injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shown with some goodies are NFL's Will Worzel, left, and Aracely Diaz. The patient is Army Pfc. Paul Skarinka, who was wounded while serving in Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division. At the right is his father, Peter Skarinka, of Whitman, Mass. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

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"This is a helluva party, isn't it?" one partygoer asked aloud.

"Sure is," another responded, popping his fingers to the beat of the music.

These "party animals" were wounded servicemembers from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families at the Mologne House hotel on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center here Feb. 6.

More than 150 wounded patients and their families gathered to watch the New England Patriots edge the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 to win their third Super Bowl in four years.

Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella, founders of the Auxiliary Unit's "Angels of Mercy" program at American Legion Post 270 in McLean, Va., came up with this year's party idea, according to Peter Anderson, Mologne House general manager. Co-sponsors were the Wounded Warriors Project, Fairfax (Va.) Harley Owner's Group, United Service Organizations and the National Football League.

Anderson said there was plenty of food, and door prizes included DVD and CD players, and lots of NFL and Harley-Davidson memorabilia. All servicemembers got an NFL cap, T-shirt and a copy of the program sold at the game. Partygoers also received Wounded Warrior T-shirts and a goodie bag from the American Legion Auxiliary. The Angels of Mercy also provided three large sheet cakes decorated with Patriots, Eagles and Super Bowl XXXIX written on them.

Six NFL headquarters representatives also traveled from New York. "We came down here to celebrate the Super Bowl with our soldiers," said Betsy Murphy, NFL benefits coordinator. She said they had visited some patients at the party earlier in the day on their wards.

"It's an honor and privilege to be here on behalf of the commissioner (Paul Tagliabue) and the National Football League. We support these guys; we commend them and their families for their courage and strength," she said. "They truly are America's best."

"Typically, we come for bike shows and have a picnic to get the wounded servicemembers out of the Mologne House," said Larry Larson of the local Harley owner's group. "It was easy for them to stay in the rooms (today), so we thought that bringing the bikes here would encourage them to come out of their rooms.

"We're just appreciative of our country and guys and gals in the military," Larson noted. "I don't think all of us as citizens really appreciate what these men and women do for us. They're the most patriotic people we've ever met. It has been a tremendous experience for us.

"They're saying 'thank you' to us as we're going out the door, and we're the ones saying we couldn't possibility thank them enough," he pointed out.

"There's a great kinship and strong feelings between the members that are veterans coming here and spending time with the soldiers," Larson continued, pointing out that many of the biker group's members are military veterans. "Everybody has his or her own personal reasons for coming. But all of us go away absolutely committed to the soldiers and our country and really appreciative of everything they do for us."

Legionnaire Jay Edwards said, "The main thing we do is to let them know that their country supports them."

One combat-wounded partygoer was Army Pfc. Paul Skarinka, 25, hit by a rocket- propelled grenade in Iraq on Sept. 13 while serving with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He arrived at Walter Reed on Sept. 20.

He called the Super Bowl party "a great thing."

"I love to see this kind of support," he said. "It's a great feeling to know that people out there have our backs and haven't forgotten about us. That's the biggest thing."

His father, Peter Skarinka, who spent four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, said the support his son is receiving at Walter Reed is "wonderful."

"People have been great, not only for the Super Bowl, but throughout Paul's hospitalization," said the former Air Force staff sergeant.

Army Sgt. John Keith, Jr., 37, was hit in Iraq while serving as a medic with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, on Nov. 9. The Humvee he was riding in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He arrived at Walter Reed on Nov. 12.

"It's really nice that they put this Super Bowl party together for us," said Keith, a Patriots fan. "We really feel very blessed that we have people that are willing to give their time to help us."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarian Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, pose with the three large sheet cakes their organization, Angels of Mercy, provided for the Super Bowl XXXIX party for servicemembers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House hotel in Washington Feb. 6. The couple launched Angels of Mercy under the sponsorship of American Legion Post 270 Auxiliary Unit in McLean, Va., in November 2003. Chirichella is the auxiliary president; Edwards is vice commander of Post 270. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Juanita Wilson, left, and Betsy Murphy, the NFL benefits coordinator, pose with New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles pennants during the Super Bowl XXXIX party at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House hotel in Washington Feb. 6. Wilson was injured in Iraq on Aug. 21, 2004, while serving with the Hawaii-based 411th Engineers. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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