Gazette Sea Foam: Lt. Dan Weekend success paves way for round 2

January 10, 2011 

In this file photo, actor Gary Sinise plays with his Lt. Dan Band at the start of the Shrimp Festival and Lt. Dan Weekend on Oct. 1, 2010, at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort. Sinise and his band will play at the Citadel -- not in Beaufort -- during this year's Lt. Dan Week.

FILE/THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

Thanks to Steve Danyluk for sharing insights into the Lt. Dan Weekend he was instrumental in bringing to Beaufort in October.

More information is available at the website, www.independencefund.org.

LT. DAN WEEKEND

By Steve Danyluk

The Lt. Dan Weekend has to rank up there near the top of the local highlights of 2010.

The event certainly drew a lot of media attention: 18 printed stories and eight televised.

For Gary Sinise, making his first visit to Beaufort since he portrayed the paraplegic Lt. Dan Taylor when "Forrest Gump" was filmed here, the visit and welcome he received was over the top. It was so powerful that the co-founder of Sinise's Lt. Dan Band, Kimo Williams, is considering retirement property in Beaufort.

But the most extraordinary memory of the weekend was the effect it had on the severely injured veterans who attended the festivities.

Everyone who attended the closing dinner for the vets, sponsored by AMVET's Post 70, was as touched as I when Sgt. 1st Class Justin Minyard, who was nearly paralyzed in Afghanistan, spoke with great eloquence about the transformative effect that Beaufort's "Welcome Home" provided these veterans.

"I was done, I didn't want to go on living," he said. "Now, I have hope."

That's powerful stuff, and you could sense the feeling among the many amazing volunteers in the room that we have to do this again.

After all the expenses were paid, the Lt. Dan Weekend raised more than $30,000, which will be issued in the form of grants and therapeutic equipment for veterans.

It took about six weeks to dole out those funds. I took the last portion to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in the form of a fully-loaded iPad that I delivered to a Marine corporal, a three-tour combat veteran who is one of a handful of quadruple amputees from the war and has been quasi-adopted by some of the New York City firefighters who attended Lt. Dan Weekend, as well.

We decided the iPad was an appropriate tool because without hands manipulating a cell phone was a problem for him. With the iPad, we were able to tape a stylus to the Marine's left stump and let him make his own calls and send text messages. It's a minor thing, but one step in the right direction for his independence.

The Lt. Dan Weekend volunteers have unanimously expressed their desire to hold a Lt. Dan Weekend in 2011.

Like the first one, we are starting with a nearly empty bank account. Even with Sinise donating his time and talent, the event cost more than $100,000 to stage. The next one will not be any less. We will need support, but unlike last year when we were a pig in a poke, the volunteers now have a proven track record of excellence.

Earlier this month, Beaufort received an early Christmas present when it was announced that five F-35B squadrons will be stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. That deal will include $400 million in construction contracts that will soon complement the $1.2 billion in economic impact the military already brings the community without the F-35B squadrons.

On a grand scale, we are hopeful that the award will motivate companies such as Lockheed Martin to be sponsors of Lt. Dan Weekend.

Locally, we are hopeful that some new regional and local sponsors will emerge. Not all businesses are thriving. We understand this. But it costs nothing to hang a poster in a shop window or to offer a Lt. Dan Weekend wristband for sale next to the cash register.

That's the least we can do for heroes like the Marine at Walter Reed, and it's a tremendous way for Beaufort to tell an even broader audience that this is a community that truly puts substance behind the words when they say we support our troops.

In addition to looking for business support, we will make a concentrated effort in 2011 to call for support from our elected officials.

Beaufort County in 2010 floated a $1 million loan to cover the expenses for the Heritage golf tournament. Certainly, there is a willingness among the governed to see our wounded troops honored as much as the PGA Tour.

In 2011, we will renew our calls to the offices of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint to do something meaningful to bring back the robotic iBot wheelchair the federal government failed to fund for our paralyzed veterans because it was deemed "too expensive." One certainly can justify the comparatively minor expense of providing the best tools available for our veterans, who sacrificed their ability to walk.

God bless and have a wonderful 2011.

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