There wasn’t a wuss in the bunch.
Two months after losing his foot to a land mine in Afghanistan, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ben Seekell from Rhode Island was back in action — this time zig-zagging around pot holes in Bensonhurst on an adaptive bike alongside dozens of other gravely-injured frontline veterans, who braved Thursday’s sweltering heat for the Wounded Warrior Project’s annual Soldier Ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn on their way to the Hamptons.
Seekell ditched his bike for crutches outside Villabate-Alba Pasticceria and Bakery at 70th Street and 18th Avenue, using one of them to wave cheerily at the red, white and blue crowd gathered outside, his broad smile more of attention-grabber than the stockinged stump that was once his left leg.
The 40 or so soldiers, who were escorted into Brooklyn in style with a motorcade of Police and Fire department vehicles, and Harley riders from motorcycle clubs, wowed Villabate-Alba co-owner Emanuele Alaimo with their nerves of steel.
“They dismounted their bikes, put on their prosthetics and started walking around — their will to live is unreal!” marveled the baker whose brother served in Iraq. “They make your problems go away.”
Alaimo gladly treated the heroes — most of them out-of-staters — to a whirlwind Brooklyn experience, capped by a huge block party organized by area merchants and the city.
It made me feel really good that we could do something for them,” he commented.
Gravesend resident Phoebe Smith, who came to personally thank the soldiers for their service, says she was moved to tears by the daunting show of spirit.
“They lost what the rest of us take for granted,” she said through misty eyes.
Gotham’s patriotism overflowed along the route across the Brooklyn Bridge with people pausing in their tracks and construction workers laying down their tools to applaud the procession.
The Soldier Ride is a popular Wounded Warrior Project initiative which helps wounded warriors restore their physical and emotional well-being by participating in cross-country rides on recumbent bicycles.
“It is a unique adaptive cycling experience that honors our military men and women as they courageously battle the physical and psychological damages of war,” said a spokesperson.
The organization grew from humble beginnings when a group of veterans and brothers watching the news one night heard the difficult stories of wounded service members returning home, and decided that brass bands and ticker tapes were not enough to help them reclaim their confidence and strength. They began delivering care packages to the bedsides of disabled soldiers, which became the project’s signature program and birthed other programs, including the Soldier Ride.