During an onstage tribute at the Hannity Holiday Concert in 2011, Lt. Col. Oliver North invited Bryan up to accept a Christmas gift—a Heroes Vacation of his choosing, courtesy Freedom Alliance. Bryan had lost both legs and his left arm in an explosion that summer, and he was just starting to use prosthetics. A year and a half since then—after surgeries, rehabilitation, a move from Walter Reed to Fort Drum and then back to his hometown of Brooklyn, New York—Bryan was finally able to take time for a break.
Vacations for combat vets have more meaning than plain R&R. Because veterans of war come home with psychological as well as physical suffering, a vacation can be rehabilitative, restorative, and profoundly pivotal.
This was the case for Bryan, and for our friend and Air Force veteran Matt, as well.
Matt spent almost 18 years in service; nine and a half of those years were spent overseas. Today he is 100-percent disabled and suffers from debilitating back and hip pain. Walking with a cane now, he will eventually be confined to a wheelchair, being that his injuries will worsen over time. As with Bryan, we knew it was critical to connect with Matt and his wife and two young daughters; he and his family were in desperate need of a Heroes Vacation.
Thus, both of these exceptional men were treated to passage on board the 2013 Freedom Cruise—Holland America’s ms Maasdam—which would tour sites along the St. Lawrence River and down the Atlantic Coast.
The package comprised a policy conference hosted by Freedom Alliance, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the American Conservative Union (ACU). Our over 90 cruise guests attended discussion panels and lectures about foreign and domestic policy, the strife in Egypt and Syria, and conservative ideals, with speakers such as Colonel North, Congressman Dan Burton, NRA past president David Keene, ACU president Al Cardenas, Bay Buchanan, and more.
Leaving from Montreal, Canada, our vessel cruised to Nova Scotia and back down to Boston, stopping at the ports of Quebec City; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Bar Harbor, Maine.
Matt and his wife, Bonnie, planned ahead and scheduled excursions for almost every stop along the way. In Quebec, they toured the Montmorency Falls and the Island of Orleans. In Prince Edward Island, they checked out Green Gables (the setting of L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne books) and ate lobster. They attended our exclusive Freedom Cruise tour of the Citadel, Peggy’s Cove, and the gravesites of the Titanic victims in Halifax.
Matt told us, “I couldn’t have imagined a greater gift than this vacation—I cannot thank you enough.”
Bryan, who came with his mom, Maryjane, enjoyed a slower-paced vacation. Both mother and son took advantage of the ship’s spa—the deep-tissue massage giving Bryan relief from his constant aches. Bryan and Maryjane also pursued some local cuisine while taking a wander around the ports at Charlottetown and Bar Harbor. They said the cruise was exactly what they needed and couldn’t have come at a better time.
Our military families were not required to attend any of the Freedom Alliance events, and yet they received so great a welcome from our supporters that they showed up at nearly every occasion! The Freedom “cruisers” were just as taken with Matt and Bryan as we are, and we hope to see both our heroes again very soon.