Beaufort News

Reservist works to bring wounded veterans to Beaufort festival

Having no office and no staff hasn't stopped Steve Danyluk from helping America's newest generation of wounded warriors.

A pilot for American Airlines, Danyluk, 46, of Beaufort has run the Independence Fund from a briefcase he carries with him on flights and cracks open on layovers. From that briefcase, Danyluk has been able to raise more than $750,000 in a little more than two years to provide veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan with $25,000 robotic wheelchairs, therapy and other care.

"It's amazing because 10 years ago, before the Internet and cell phones, something like this would have been inconceivable," Danyluk said.

A Marine Corps reservist, Danyluk served a combat tour in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 and upon his return to the states was assigned to the Pentagon to work for an agency that assists wounded veterans.

"I saw some things being done well and others (being done) not so well," Danyluk said. "After leaving the job after a year, I decided to start the fund to address those things I felt the government was not doing so well."

By selling T-shirts and organizing bike rides and other events, Danyluk said he's been able to reach out to veterans from all over the country who often return home to family members and communities ill-equipped to deal with their traumatic injuries.

The Independence Fund's latest goal hits a little closer to home.

Selling $20 T-shirts and $5 wristbands, Danyluk is trying to raise $65,000 to cover travel and lodging expenses for 50 severely wounded veterans to attend the 16th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival in October. This year's festival is being headlined by actor Gary Sinise and his 13-piece Lt. Dan Band, an ensemble named after the Vietnam vet and double amputee Sinise portrayed in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump." The festival will mark the first time Sinise has been to Beaufort since filming "Gump" in 1993, according to event organizers.

"Often these guys are invited to events where they are marched onto a stage at a black-tie event where people politely clap and do little beyond that," Danyluk said. "When they come to something like what the Beaufort event is shaping up to be, where they are honored with respect, it can be transformative for even the most severely injured of the bunch."

Danyluk said the charity has raised more than $40,000 so far. Danyluk said he hopes to secure a major corporate donation from Boeing or Lockheed Martin and continue making a difference in the lives of American heroes.

"Running the fund has been an absolute blessing because not only are we making a significant difference in the lives of a number of the veterans we have assisted, I have met some of the most amazing people in the process," he said. "We've literally saved lives. Where guys may have been desperate, we've shown them that they can still have hope."