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Long Beach to welcome wounded veterans

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Hundreds of people will march along West Beech Street to honor wounded veterans at the 11th annual Long Beach Waterfront Warriors Welcome Parade, which steps off from Ohio Avenue on Sunday.

The parade begins at 3 p.m. and ends at New York Avenue, followed by a barbecue at Long Beach Catholic Regional School.

The Long Beach Waterfront Warriors have honored wounded veterans for the past 10 years with a parade, a 5K, fundraisers and other events. The nonprofit organization arranges a week-long vacation in Long Beach for the veterans and their families, with a stay at the Allegria Hotel, said John McLaughlin, a retired New York City firefighter, who co-founded the non-profit with Jerry Snell in 2009.

The week consists of a trip to the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial in Manhattan, surf lessons by Skudin Surf, a fishing trip and a concert on the beach, among other activities.

Lance Cpl. Corey Uhrig of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was among the first group of veterans who met the Waterfront Warriors 11 years ago, is among the 18 families visiting this year.

“It means a lot because one of the Marines, Corey Uhrig, coming this year was an original member to benefit from the fundraiser,” McLaughlin said.

Uhrig and his wife, Kaitlin, will be returning to Long Beach after a nine-year absence. McLaughlin met Uhrigh while he was being treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Over the years, McLaughlin said the organization has brought many other soldiers from Walter Reed; many of the veterans suffer from injuries and conditions sustained in combat, including lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, gunshot wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Waterfront Warriors give residents a chance to show their support for injured veterans, with many undergoing treatment at Walter Reed.

McLaughlin said that the veterans appreciate the social atmosphere of the parade.

“When the parade starts, it gets crowded and people know the soldiers are coming,” McLaughin said. “The soldiers love it and it really is a great day.”

The 5K race will step off on the boardwalk at Grand Boulevard and will kickoff Sunday’s festivities at 8 a.m. McLaughlin expects there to be around 400 people at the barbeque after the parade.

A fundraiser will be held on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Inn and will include raffles, a live auction, an open bar and appetizers. Admission to the fundraiser will be $50. The live auction will feature donated items from residents and local businesses, in the past those items included a custom surfboard and a beach cruiser.

Besides the annual events, the nonprofit also helps provide ill and wounded veterans with emergency medical evaluations, educational support and other important services.

Members of the Long Beach Police Department, the Long Beach Fire Department, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1384, lifeguards, elected officials and others all come out to show their support each year, and McLaughlin said that the parade has become a “real community event.”

“A lot of [the veterans] have relationships with families in Long Beach, the families keep in touch with veterans and develop friendships,” McLaughlin said.