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America Supports You: Rolling Thunder Focuses on Wounded Marine

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2006 – Many Americans believe the nation's troops deserve support during wartime, but servicemembers returning with severe injuries will need special support the rest of their lives.

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Rolling Thunder New York Chapter 3 members march in the St. Patrick's Day parade, March 5: from left, Sue Orts, chapter board chairman Bill Palmer, secretary Mary Lewis, treasurer Tony Hilinski, president Ron Orts and Dave Hansen. The chapter will host a fundraiser Aug. 27 to benefit Marine Sgt. Eddie Ryan who suffered severe brain injuries in Iraq. Courtesy photo

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Members of "Rolling Thunder" Chapter 3 in upstate New York are raising funds to give that support to Marine Sgt. Eddie Ryan, who sustained severe brain injuries while serving in Iraq. Ryan's family has been by his side since the day after he was wounded.

"The thing is that there's going to be an ongoing need for money as they go through the years," said Dave Hansen, who is sponsoring a "poker run" through the Hudson River Valley, Aug. 27. "They just recently had a van with a wheelchair lift donated to them, and of course as soon as I saw that, I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, maintenance.'"

Already several community members have rallied around Ryan and his family to donate materials and expertise, adding a massive addition to the Ryan home outside Ellenville, N.Y., which will likely be finished by the end of this month. It will have a special bed for pressure release since he doesn't move, a Jacuzzi to help him continue his rehabilitation, and special equipment to move him from bed to wheelchair to toilet. Hansen said the concern now is to make sure the community remembers Ryan's future needs.

The poker run's main event will be a raffle. Participants, who will arrive on motorcycles or in cars, will each pull a card from a normal card deck at the start point, and at the next four stops, they'll continue picking one card at a time. The three people with the highest five-card poker hands at the last stop will win part of the pot, and the rest will go to Ryan's family.

The event will likely cost $15 to $20 per rider, plus $10 entry for passengers, Hansen said. The group expects to have other raffles and prizes at the event, depending on what gets donated.

"We're going to get the word out to as many people throughout the entire Hudson Valley as possible to come into this ride so that we can get the entire Hudson Valley to show their support for literally one of our heroes, one of the people that keeps us free," Hansen said. "We hope that they will continue this sort of support in the future for not just Eddie, but for any other soldier who comes back with the same sort of injuries."

Rolling Thunder began as a protest movement in 1987 with 2,600 demonstrators riding through Washington, D.C., in an effort to keep the memories alive of over 92,000 American servicemembers still listed as missing in action. The group will return to the nation's capital on this Memorial Day weekend.

"Rolling Thunder's main mission is to & make sure that future (prisoners of war) are not forgotten, and the fewest number of MIAs possible are created in the future," Hansen said. "That's the primary mission, but that doesn't give you much in the way of hands on & so what we do to keep ourselves involved is to work with as many veterans as possible, and certainly those like Eddie are on our priority list."

Eddie Ryan's mother, Angie, said Hansen and other Rolling Thunder members visit her son in the hospital twice a week. "They're doing it on their time, and their sweat and blood doing this for Eddie, and I couldn't be more thrilled," she said.

Angie said she has remained by her son's side since the day after he was wounded over a year ago. They spent a week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, then went to hospitals in Bethesda, Md., and Richmond, Va., before arriving at Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital, N.Y., on Sept. 15.

Getting Eddie admitted to Helen Hayes was a struggle, since the hospital is not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs system, Angie said. VA hospitals close to the Ryan home did not have a traumatic brain injury unit, and that meant Eddie would not get the care he needed. Thanks to help from U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly, Eddie got in eventually.

"It's the best thing for us," Angie said. "So we're hoping it'll open up the avenues for others in need."

She said she will remain with her son at the hospital until they can make the trek home together. For now, the daily routine consists of nearly constant occupational therapy, speech therapy sessions, and range of motion work from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"It's a full day for him," Angie said. "They're very aggressive as far as the therapies here. The place is wonderful. I'm very happy with Helen Hayes. I can't say enough about it."

Angie said although her son's wounds have devastated her family, she feels blessed to have so many people reaching out and touching their lives. She hopes her experience will make it a little easier for future families who have to go through situations of this magnitude.

"My son has taken two bullets to the head, and he is a real miracle, and, you know, there's always hope," she said. "No matter how things seem sometimes, they just have a way of turning around, so we're just blessed to have that second chance with Eddie."

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America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageResidents of the Hudson Valley region in upstate New York donated materials and time to build a massive addition to the home of Marine Sgt. Eddie Ryan, who was severely wounded in Iraq, to be completed at the end of May. The home originally was only the size of the pink siding shown here. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of Rolling Thunder Navy veterans gather around Sgt. Eddie Ryan and his mother, Angie, March 25. Courtesy photo  
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