MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas—Four men on recumbent cycles toiled through the Texas heat in Liberty and Montgomery counties on Friday on the third week of a cross-country trip to raise money for injured U.S. service men and women.
And among the cyclists was an injured Marine, cycling without the legs he already gave to his country in Afghanistan.
"One of the guys behind me stepped on a pressure plate, activated the IED and that was that," said Ben Maenza of the incident that took his legs in Afghanistan in 2010.
Maenza, peddling with his arms on a specially outfitted three-wheel cycle, began the journey June 10 in St. Augustine, Fla., with fellow Marine Corps veterans Dennis McLaughlin, John Gerlaugh and Troy McLeheny. They plan to arrive at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., on August 10 and raise money and awareness with every difficult mile for wounded members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"And the men and women coming back really need support. And this is a way to get it done. If you don’t do something extraordinary or out of the norm it’s hard to get people to donate," said McLeheny.
The charity they are supporting is The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. The nonprofit provides financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, filling the financial gaps the government does not.
Maenza says the charity helped him with medical, mobility, and even travel expenses during his recovery.
"They’ve done a lot for me and my fellow wounded Marines and I’d do whatever I could to help them out. Give back to them," he said.
On Thursday, the men—and their support team, traveling behind them in a 5th-wheel trailer—received a hero’s welcome in Cleveland in Liberty County. The local Holiday Inn even provided them a free place to stay for the night.
It’s that Texas-style treatment of military veterans that they hope will continue as they ask for donations.
"The pain is pretty significant for guys our age," said John Gerlaugh a Marine veteran and Pentagon employee who took two months off work to make this trip. "But it pales in comparison to what the guys have given up over there," he said of fellow Marine,s like Maenza.
"It’s a good cause. There’s none better really," he said.
And no one more dedicated than a Marine who already gave his legs -- and is now offering his country his arms to encourage people to help his brothers in need.
So far, the men have raised $45,000. They hope to raise as much as $1 million for the Semper Fi Fund.