HURLOCK — Ray Edwards, president of Sharptown-based Heroes Haven, Inc. is a dynamo. He is a driving force in efforts to literally and figuratively salute U.S. troops who were wounded in action. The 501C3 organization, sponsored by American Legion Post 218 and Sharptown’s fire department, raises funds and shows wounded warriors some down-home, ole’ fashioned Eastern Shore hospitality. An annual mid-October event revolves around a three day black powder hunt. And it is intense.
The program began as a joint venture with Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda. The wounded included armed services members with amputations: Some a leg, some an arm, some in wheelchairs, some not, some with injuries visible only on X-rays, some not visible at all but debilitating nonetheless.
And then things changed. The Bethesda hospital has fewer patients since the country’s exodus from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And less money. Mr. Edwards says, “Two years ago there were about 250-275 warriors with some kind of amputation. Now there are about 53. Walter Reed doesn’t want to make the commitment to any organization to do anything longer than a one-day trip. Realistically, coming from Bethesda, these guys would have to get up about 2 a.m. to get here without adequate time to get in stands and hunt.”
Heroes Haven changed direction. They reached out beyond Bethesda and went directly to other contacts, including the Quantico Marine Corps regiment and the D.C. office of the Wounded Warrior Project. And it became a matter of veterans referring other veterans.
Mr. Edwards explained how coincidences play a major role in their operation (although some might give the credit to a Higher Power). He explained, “There’s a gentleman here, Kendall, who was a loadmaster in the Air Force but was hurt in the line of duty. His job was loading heavy equipment on the airplanes and he crushed his leg and foot and he has some back issues. He retired in 2007. John Masters, one of our very first Wounded Warriors, met him and believe it or not they both live in Greeley, Colo. but didn’t know each other. John participates in the Warrior Games (in Colorado) and met Kendall there. He said, ‘yeah, these guys out on the East Coast have this program’ and Kendall said he’d like to do it.”
“So, Kendall flew into Salisbury Tuesday night,” says Mr. Edwards. The first to disembark, he was greeted by about 30 people with American flags and signs bearing his name.
The first day was spent at Delmarva Sporting Clays. The guests “sighted” their firearms at the range and familiarized themselves with the intricacies of black powder which was new to many. Gun manufacturer LWRC International in Cambridge supplied a variety of weapons and ammunition. After shooting weapons with which they were familiar, they spent time shooting skeet and “laughed and carried on,” said Mr. Edwards.
The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department and the Maryland State Police escorted the group through Mardela to Sharptown’s American Legion. A “big” lasagna dinner followed the “Meet and Greet.”
All day Thursday and on Friday morning the group hunted. Traditionally, they have lunch in Hurlock’s American Legion Post 243. This year’s sumptuous buffet, prepared by the post’s Auxiliary, also included crabcakes. After a successful afternoon hunt they returned to Sharptown for dinner.
A final hunt on Saturday ended with a banquet at the Sharptown Firemens’ Memorial Building. Heroes Haven gave each warrior the weapon they hunted with in the field as a keepsake and they received a lifetime membership in the American Legion plus a plaque and key to the town from the Sharptown Commissioners.
“Our goal is ultimately to help the American Legion reach the younger vets who don’t know what the Legion stands for,” said Mr. Edwards. “We want to get them familiar with the Legion, go back to their home communities, get them acclimated into a local post, and hopefully start a program back in their hometown helping vets who need to be helped.”
Several states were represented at this year’s event. Mr. Edwards said, “Justin is still at Walter Reed. He came out last fall and we extended an invite for him to come back. Kendall is from Colorado. Robert is also from Colorado. He has no physical injury but he has traumatic brain injury (TBI) from an explosion and the first time he went into the field he harvested a deer. Will is from Alabama and Pennsylvania and is now at Fort Meade. This is his second year. His wife is a major, an army nurse. Charles is a double amputee from West Virginia. Kyle is from Michigan and has his foot in a walking cast. Jeff is active Marine at Quantico; Raz is a Marine Corps sergeant from Kansas and his wife is also. Dustin was part of last year’s program. He was in a Humvee accident and is under constant treatment with operations to infuse and burn his nerves.”
Two additional warriors were expected Friday evening including: An Army captain with a below the knee amputation and Sean, a Glen Burnie, Md. resident.
On the Eastern Shore, the American Legion is an active organization, albeit always in need of younger veterans. In 1919 the Legion began as a patriotic veterans’ organization to serve veterans, service members, and communities. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide.
For information on Heroes’ Haven and how to participate, e-mail: Call Ray Edwards at 410-215-9354 or e-mail him at email@example.com.