Wounded, yet strong: Wounded Warriors visit Pine Road School

Matt Schickling, the Wire

American flags waving, signs reading “protectors,” “courageous” and “legendary” held high, students cheering–that was the scene as members of the Wounded Warrior Softball Team entered Pine Road School this morning.

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The team, made up of U.S. military veterans who suffered injuries resulting in amputation, will play two games Saturday, May 2, at Lower Moreland High School. The teachers and administration of Lower Moreland School District wanted to make sure that the students understood what the game represented: pride and respect for soldiers and veterans.

“There’s just no words to express the sacrifices you made for us and the people in our lives,” Sharon Franciosa, assistant principal at Pine Road School, said.

Lonnie Gaudet, U.S. Army, and Leonard Anderson, U.S. Air Force, and his service dog, Azza, were escorted into the assembly by students from the school after a parade of banners made by the students. The Pine Road Orchestra played The Star-Spangled Banner.

One student, Braden Alicea, read a poem titled “Wounded Yet Strong,” written and published by his mother. Alicea’s uncle is a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan, and is now part of the Wounded Warriors project.

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“The road ahead may be arduous and long, but you can make it. You’re military strong,” Alicea read. “It’s crucial that you know how much you’re admired. You’re a hero who has truly awed and inspired.”

The students presented the veterans with about 50 handmade cards for the team to share, fifth-graders presented their own poem and first-graders led the assembly in singing “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.

Some of the students prepared questions for Gaudet and Anderson. The topics included how long the veterans served, what they liked about the job, the Wounded Warrior team and, of course, Anderson’s dog Azza, who also served and was injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Now she stays at home on the couch with me,. She pretty much travels everywhere with me,” Anderson said. “It actually helps her a lot more than it helps me.”

Gaudet, who is retired, served in the infantry in the U.S. Army.

“I chose the job. It wasn’t one of those, ‘This is your only option’ things,” he said. “It was something I felt strongly about. My grandfathers on both sides of my family both served in World War II. It’s just a really strong conviction of mine.”

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“I loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” he added.

Gaudet and Anderson both suffered injuries in service. Gaudet, who wears a prosthetic leg, says he is more mobile than some of the double amputees on the team and is able to play most positions.

“I mainly pitch and play catcher, given the fact that I have to use a prosthetic arm to catch and hit,” Anderson said. “Every once in a while, I’ll run around in the outfield.”

The Wounded Warrior Softball Team will play two games tomorrow. The first is at noon against Lower Moreland and Bryn Athyn first responders. In the second game, schedule for 2 p.m., school personnel will play the Warriors.

The team is made up of a rotating roster of about 30 players from all over the country, and many are flying into Lower Moreland for the game. They play at about 30 different venues each year across just as many states. The Willow Grove VFW will be hosting some of the players for dinner tonight.

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“That’s the way we can give back, mentoring to the younger generation,” Gaudet said. “When you get to talk to kids who are finding themselves in that stage of life, that’s special. That’s where the foundation gets made.”

For more information on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, visit www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.

The Wounded Warrior Softball games will take place at Lower Moreland High School baseball field on May 2, starting at noon. Because of limited seating, it is recommended for attendants to bring blankets or chairs. There is no cost for admission. For information, visit www.lmwoundedwarrior.com.