The Red Lion Project and the Warrior Weekend Experience

Jim Conley

On Jan. 19, 2012, while on a combat mission, a CH53D helicopter assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, the Red Lions, crashed.  Six Marines were lost, including Corporal Joey Logan, son of retired HPD officers Tom and Debi Logan.

The Heroes began returning at 1400. It was exciting to watch them step on the dock and place their catch into a bucket carried by members of the local high school football team. They returned with fish less than a foot long, some four feet or longer, sharks, stingrays, every type of sea creature imaginable. The Heroes received cheers and whistles as they made their way to the weigh-in area. Later that evening, awards would be given in several categories for the fish they brought in. After a short while everyone was bused back to their respective hotels so they could clean up for the barbeque and awards ceremony.

We drove the short distance to the Port O’Connor Community Center which was headquarters for the Warrior Weekend event and where the barbeque dinner would be served. A huge sand sculpture had been erected to honor these men and women as well as those killed or missing in action.

At approximately 1800 dinner was served. There were over 1,000 people in attendance, including the warriors and their families and organizers, supporters, and volunteers. The serving line was long but went quickly. The Wounded Heroes had front of the line privileges.

As our Warriors finished their meal of barbecue brisket and links, we began introducing ourselves to them and presenting them with Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops “Alamo” challenge coins. As previously described, they are given ONLY to Wounded Heroes or parents/spouses of military personnel killed in action and cannot be purchased at any price; the Lone Star on the coin is a reminder that Texas takes care of its Heroes; the Alamo is a reminder that as Texans remember the Alamo we will always remember these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for us; and the purpose of the Col. William Barrett Travis quote, “I shall never surrender or retreat,” is to motivate them to never give up, to never quit when the days are dark.

This is the most emotionally draining, yet most fulfilling part of our day.  We began by searching for a young man we’ve seen and greeted each year we’ve participated in this event. He has lost both legs and is in a wheelchair, but each time we see him he’s smiling and encouraging others to have fun.

The Smiles!

We located him near the opposite end of the huge tent where dinner was being served. He recognized us when we approached him and broke out in a smile when we gave him an Operation Lone Star t-shirt. We had given him a challenge coin on a previous visit.

He “beep beep beeped” and said he didn’t want to run over anyone while backing away from the table for pictures. He proudly put on his t-shirt and smiled for the camera, then we exchanged handshakes and hugs and promised to see each other next year.

We next approached a female Warrior who sat with her cane leaning against the table. I introduced Judy, Sandy and myself, told her about Operation Lone Star, then handed her the coin. The more I talked, the more teary-eyed she became. When I finished she looked me in the eye and said, “You’re giving this to me?” Then she gave me one of those hugs I’ll never forget.

We gave the “Alamo” coins to many Wounded Heroes that evening and so many are unforgettable. Two were in wheelchairs with their service dogs at their sides. When I completed my short speech with “never give up, never quit,” one said, “Sir, I’ve been thinking about that lately.” The other said, “Thank you, Sir. I needed this.”

The two most memorable young Heroes were standing outside the tent. One was alone, leaning on his cane and obviously in pain. He had a blank look in his eyes when I began talking to him. A female Warrior, also with a cane, stepped outside and asked if he was ok. He replied that he was and she stepped back into the tent.

As I got into my description of the coin he began listening more intently. Within moments his focus was entirely on the coin. I looked up from the coin and saw a smile slowly forming. When I was through he had a big smile, reached out to shake my hand and said, “Thank you, Sir.” As we walked away he was looking at the coin, still smiling.

The other Wounded Hero was standing several yards away, also leaning on his cane while talking to several buddies. We noticed that his entire body was shaking uncontrollably. I introduced the three of us and got the same uncomprehending look as before. He leaned in closer to hear me and began trembling even more. We were being quite concerned when suddenly he appeared to calm, and was focusing all of his attention on the coin and what I was saying.

And….he smiled. “Thank you, Sir.” Then gave me a strong hug. He looked at Judy and Sandy and said, “I’d like to hug you ladies, too.” And he did. He was showing the coin to his buddies and smiling when we walked away.

Spending time with these brave men and women takes me back to Christmas 1967, when I was a 19-year-old Signalman aboard USS Ranger in the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of North Vietnam. The Bob Hope Show arrived to perform for us and sailors brought aboard from other 7th Fleet ships also serving on Yankee Station.  The day before they had been in Chu Lai, South Vietnam where my brother had seen the show.

Obviously the troops in-country had a much more difficult time, but when you’re thousands of miles away from home, especially at Christmas, homesick is homesick. Or as we said back in the day, it sucked.

Bob Hope, Raquel Welch, Miss World and the rest of the cast took us home for two hours. We laughed, we enjoyed the music, we got a break from air ops, general quarters, and 8-on 8-off watches. At the end of the show the entire cast took the stage and encouraged the crew to sing “Silent Night” with them. There wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

Bless the Troops!

Then the show was over. And everything sucked again.

But….for two hours we smiled.

That’s what makes what we do so fulfilling. These young men and women we visit in the VA Hospital, San Antonio Military Medical Center, The Warrior and Family Support Center, and the ones we meet at Warriors Weekend are injured in ways most of us can’t imagine. Some will never fully recover.

But….for two minutes we made them smile.

As I wrote in a previous article, it’s the smiles. We’ll never forget the smiles.

God Bless Our Troops and God Bless America.

 

The 1st Annual Catfish Fundraiser, a benefit to raise funds for the Red Lion Project, was held May 9 in Willis.  The Red Lion Project is a planned retreat for Wounded Heroes and their families, which is currently under construction on 164 acres in Mineral County in Joey’s beloved Montana.

Six cabins will be built with each one being named for one of “The Fallen Six.” Those six: Corporal Joey Logan, Captain Daniel B. Bartle, Captain Nathan R. McHone, Master Sergeant Travis Riddick, Corporal Kevin Reinhard and Corporal Jesse W. Stites. Tom and Debi hope to have the retreat up and running next year.

Checks of Support

In an effort to support Tom and Debi’s dream of honoring Joey and the other members of “The Fallen Six” with the construction of The Red Lion Project, Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops presented them a check.  A check was also presented by the Lone Star Chapter of the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, of which many members are active and retired members.

For more information on The Red Lion Project go to www.RedLionUSMCProject.com or The Red Lion Project, 502 West Montgomery #342, Willis, Texas, 77378.

May 15 marked the beginning of Warrior Weekend IX, a weekend of fishing and fun for Wounded Heroes.  Approximately 500 Heroes were flown to Houston from military facilities all over the country. An additional 400 were bused to Port O’Connor from Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston on Saturday morning.

Those who arrived at IAH received a tremendous greeting as they rode down the escalator to Terminal C Baggage Claim. They were met by a cheering crowd of hundreds in addition to Honor Guards Representing HPD, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Precinct 4 Constable, Texas Department of Public Safety, Transportation Safety Administration, as well as the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy.

They were met by military personnel from all branches, HPD officers of all ranks, and members of the Houston Police Officers Union and the Houston Police Retired Officers Association, Moms of Military Service, Patriot Guard Riders and Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops.

There were smiles, tears, hugs and kisses as the Wounded Heroes worked their way through Baggage Claim to the waiting buses on the opposite side of the building.  This was our fifth year at this event. We were posted near the exit, providing cold water, handshakes, and a “Welcome to Texas!” greeting.

The smiles on these young Heroes’ faces were priceless.  These men and women were in various stages of recovery but each offered a handshake and a humble “Thank you.”  My son, an HPD officer and a veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, was excited to see how, as our unofficial motto says, Texas takes care of its Heroes.

It was over too quickly as our Heroes boarded the buses which would take them to Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay for a day of fishing and barbeque.

A “Job Well Done” to those who made this event possible, with a special thanks to Northeast Division Captain Greg Fremin, IAH Airport Division Captain Glen Yorek, the officers assigned to IAH Airport Division, who always exhibit pride and professionalism during this event, and all the HPD and IAH civilian personnel who made this morning so memorable for our Wounded Heroes.

Lures and Catches

At 0445 Saturday morning I left Spring to pick up VP Judy Pierce and Secretary/Treasurer Sandy Alexander for our journey to Port O’Connor. We arrived at the staging area at Froggie’s Bait Dock at 0840 and the buses of Wounded Heroes arrived shortly afterwards. They were greeted by music, cheerleaders and a cheering crowd. As they exited the buses we gave each a pack of three fishing lures. It amazes me how something so simple could put such a big smile on a young Hero’s face. They were also given t-shirts and snacks by other organizations similar to ours.

The bay was packed with fishing boats of every size and description. We were told that 400 boat captains had volunteered their time and equipment to make this happen. Each boat picked up anywhere from two to five Wounded Heroes and set out for Matagorda Bay. Everything they needed was provided by the boat captains.