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Wounded veterans get patriotic welcome (w/video)

By JR Ortega
May 16, 2014 at 12:16 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2014 at 12:17 a.m.

"Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon?" Dani Mahaffey, of Victoria, asked as she waved a flag and cheered for the warriors as they arrived in buses, cars and on motorcycles for the Warrior's Weekend welcoming ceremony at Faith Family Church on Friday.

Everywhere you look, splashes of red, white and blue greet the eye.

Factor in the screaming, honking and cheers, and you've got Warrior's Weekend, an event that this year has brought more than 800 wounded veterans to an annual fishing trip in Port O'Connor.

But before they hit the docks, the warriors made a pit stop at the Field of Honor on Friday.

As each tour bus turned into the parking lot, community members lined the streets, waving their American flags.

In the tour buses, faces were smooshed against the tinted windows - smiles could be seen stretched across their faces. Faces such as Terrence Watson, a 22-year-old who serves in the U.S. Army.

Getting off the bus with his group, Watson was greeted by an elated crowd that welcomed him and the rest with open arms.

"I'm surprised," he said, slowly inching his way toward two lines of people forming a human wall. This was where the hugs, handshakes and thank-you's were given. "We are not used to any of this."

The entire idea was new and foreign to Mercedes Casanova, 63. She sat on the bleachers, waving her flag high as she watched the veterans walk between the walls of people.

Casanova moved to Victoria in September and was excited to learn how patriotic the community is.

"I've never seen anything like this," she said. "It's hard not to get emotional."

Casanova dressed her pooch for the occasion, too. Striper, a 5-month-old Yorkie mix, donned a red, white and blue necktie. Growing up in the Bronx and then moving to California, Casanova said she can attest to not seeing such a display of patriotism as she saw Friday.

"It makes you proud to be an American," she said.

Veterans, all donning white fishing shirts, were spread out throughout the entire Field of Honor area. A group of them were across the street meeting and greeting Howell Middle School students standing along the sidewalk.

"Selfie," one girl yelled. Just then, all the veterans ducked down and gave their best ecstatic face for the photo.

While some enjoyed the sights and sounds and mingled, Capt. Donald Carr smiled with his family by his side.

Carr and his family, who are from Oklahoma, have been stationed in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio for the past two years. This is Carr's first Warrior's Weekend, and he is especially proud because his wife, Stephanie, and his four kids - Sierra, 13; Hunter, 11; AnnaBelle, 4; and Abbigale, 3 - could come along.

The family gathered around Carr's flag and admired it for a couple of minutes.

"I love it; these small, little towns along the way are a lot more patriotic," he said about the Crossroads.

Aside from loving that his family was with him, Carr is excited to fish. It will be the family's first time ocean fishing, he said.

"You don't see a lot of sponsored events like this for families," his wife chimed in.

The trip is a nice break from what the past 26 years of Army life have done to him - not that he's complaining, he said.

He's served in seven combat battles, including Desert Storm and two tours in Iraq. It was in Iraq, he said, that an improvised explosive device blast in Baghdad compressed his spine and caused him to develop memory retention issues.

His other experiences in battle would eventually catch up with him. He discovered he had thyroid cancer because he encountered uranium during combat. The cancer was removed, and he is now cancer-free.

But standing by his flag in the Field of Honor on Friday made it all worth it.

"This is pretty special," he said. "It's kind of cool that, as an individual, I'm recognized for what we're put through."



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