Hundreds Walk for the Wounded in Ocean City
Ret. Marine Sgt. Matthew Sonderman tells a couple hundred Walk for the Wounded participants about the vital services provided by Operation First Response, the beneficiary of Saturday’s event. The Ocean City High School marching band leads the way with a couple hundred walkers following on a windy Saturday morning in Ocean City during the Walk for the Wounded.A couple hundred people took a walk to support U.S. veterans on a blustery Saturday morning on the Ocean City Boardwalk.They were part of the seventh annual Walk for the Wounded, a major fundraiser for Operation First Response, which provides financial assistance and other support to wounded soldiers and their families.On his third tour of duty overseas, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Matthew Sonderman was driving the lead vehicle in a resupply convoy in southern Afghanistan when his “time finally came on June 14, 2008.”The front half of his Humvee and most of the right side of his body was blown apart by a bomb (improvised explosive device) planted in the roadway. Sonderman told the participants in Saturday’s event that the next seven days — as he traveled back the U.S. convinced that he would lose his leg and arm — were the darkest of his life.Ocean City Home Bank President Steve Brady founded the event seven years ago and continues to champion the cause.But as he emerged from an ambulance in San Antonio, Texas, his mother and sister were waiting.Operation First Response made that possible, he said. The group paid for their travel expenses and kept them informed and reassured about Sonderman’s condition.Sonderman’s limbs were saved, and he ultimately went on to earn a civil engineering degree, receiving help from many organizations along the way.“Operation First Response stands out in my mind,” he said. “Seven years later, they’re the only organization that keeps in touch with me on a weekly basis.”“As difficult as the battles are at war, often the battles at home are more difficult,” Operation First Response Chief Executive Officer Peggy Baker said.He said the psychological support and encouragement offered by OFR is every bit as vital as the financial help.“They tackle the areas that are important,” he said.James Levison, an Army veteran who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, echoed Sonderman’s message.“If you have brothers and sisters that serve, reach out to them,” Levison said. “Say ‘we love you’ or ‘Hey, are you OK?’ ”He said representatives of OFR “are the most welcoming people I have ever met.”Ocean City’s Walk for the Wounded has raised more than $400,000 for injured soldiers since 2009, not including this year’s proceeds, which have yet to be calculated.Army veteran James Levison had trouble with depression and substance abuse until he found help with Operation First Response.The event encourages individuals and teams to solicit pledges for donations in the name of those who complete a 3-mile walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk.Ocean City Home Bank President Steven Brady first brought the event to Ocean City, and from the start, he enlisted the help of an old college roommate — Phil Martelli, head coach of the St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball team.Brady said that Martelli “had a date with the Pope” on Saturday, but he introduced another local basketball legend, NBA veteran Chris Ford, to serve as emcee for the ceremony.Brady thanked all the people who made the event possible and the elected officials in attendance, and he reserved a special thanks for the Ocean City firefighters who work year-round to raise money for the cause.“The Ocean City Fire Department has raised this event to a whole other level,” Brady said.Ford noted that Playland’s Castaway Cove had raised $8,565 during a wristband ride promotion this summer, and Gillian’s Wonderland Pier provided a similar promotion for rides from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.