Wounded Troops Honored Aboard Presidential Yacht

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2006 - Wounded veterans cruised the Potomac River in style yesterday aboard the presidential yacht USS Sequoia, while area businesses and Defense Department officials honored their sacrifice.

"I want them to feel the weight of their sacrifice in a way that brings honor and joy to them as a small form of compensation for the pain they feel every day and probably will for the rest of their lives," Michael Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and himself a wounded veteran, said before getting under way with about 40 patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

Powell said he believes a ride on the Sequoia is a fitting tribute to these troops' sacrifices, thanks in part to modifications made by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"We think this is probably the first ship that was disabled accessible because of the president," he said. "It had elevators and wheelchair lifts for the president at the time. But many extraordinary events, including the planning of D-Day with Eisenhower and FDR took place aboard. President Kennedy's 46th birthday took place aboard the ship."

Powell noted that even Cabinet meetings took place aboard the one-time presidential vessel. "So it's a real historical treasure," he said. "We're proud it's been refurbished and brought back into use."

The 104-foot yacht, used by nine presidents, from Hoover to Ford, is now owned by a private company and rents for about $1,000 per hour, as does her sister ship, the R&R, which was on hand as well. The owners, Gary Silversmith and Rob Hartwell, donated the vessels for the day.

The Potomac cruises started last summer with three river rides, one a month through August, said coordinator Army Maj. Alan Rogers. "We'd get 20 to 40 patients who would come out," he said. "This year, we've kind of taken it up a level."

Members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American military airmen of World War II fame, took part in the cruise yesterday, as well as several Defense Department officials and other VIPs. Once onboard, the passengers ate a lunch provided by the Boeing Corp., with beverages from Service Distributors, Inc.

Rogers said Sarah Gaunt, director of player benefits for the NFL, came up with the idea to take wounded troops out for a cruise. She knew the owners of the Sequoia and got the ball rolling. "We're extremely thankful to the owners of both of these yachts," he said.

Michael Hogan, a Boeing manager, said the company jumped at the chance to be part of the event. "Boeing looked at this as an opportunity to be good citizens, good members of the community," he said. "Coming out and expressing your appreciation and gratitude for the members of the military, particularly those that have been injured over there in the fight against terrorism -- certainly it's a worthwhile cause."

As troops and their families mingled on the Sequoia's decks, they listened to river music by the Navy's bluegrass band and opera music sung by Army Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Giuliano, a tenor with the Army Band.

Army Pvt. Teresa Morris, injured during training at Fort Pickett, Va., said the event made her feel like a part of history. "It brings back a lot of history, how we've changed, evolved," she said.

Army National Guard Cpl. Steven Scrugham, injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, said events like this bring out good things in patients at area military hospitals and are helping him recover. "It gets most everybody up a little bit," he said.

Scrugham, a veteran of the first Gulf War, said support from home is more important now than it was in 1990. In comparing the that war to the current conflict, he said "this one's a lot different. It's a little more scary than it was the first time."

He said the outpouring of support here at home was a welcome surprise when he returned three months ago to recuperate from his injuries.

"When I was in Iraq, we'd hear there was a lot of civilians that were upset with us, but we come home and it's the opposite," he said. "People give us a lot of support, which is great."

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