All heroes on deck
The Memorial Day weekend sailing regatta, now in its 47th year, was created by a couple of friends challenging each other to a sailboat race across Nantucket Sound. It’s grown into one of the largest attended and longest running regattas on the East Coast, attracting more than 200 boats each year. Funds, raised from entries and other events on Nantucket and Hyannis, and managed by Figawi Charities Inc., benefit countless local charities.
Tom McCann, a Nantucket summer resident, created Holidays for Heroes seven years ago, after being moved by tributes he’d witnessed to wounded warriors.
“He pulled together some friends and business owners on Nantucket and approached Figawi to host wounded veterans and their families,” explains Shelley Crawford, executive director of Figawi Charities Inc., and director of operations for Holidays for Heroes Inc. and Sierra Delta Inc. “His mission was to not only provide the heroes with an opportunity to come to Nantucket expense free and enjoy the long weekend, but to bring their families also. He wanted to provide a respite for them from their pain, worries and stress.”
McCann’s idea was to focus the veterans’ visits to Nantucket on the holidays of Memorial Day weekend, July Fourth and 9/11 commemorations. Over the years, there have been additional events such as the Women in War event, held last March on Nantucket; the Coma Club Reunion, which will be held in June; and the Westmoor Club event, which benefits the Sierra Delta program.
Sgt. Jason Johns of Madison, Wisconsin was among three veterans who sailed in Figawi last year. Johns, an attorney and member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, signed up for active duty and was deployed to Iraq in May 2003. He was wounded in combat that fall and awarded a Purple Heart. After recuperating for two weeks in a field hospital, he returned to duty for another year. He is now the owner and president of NMLB Veterans Advocacy Group, Inc., where he and his team work on key veteran legislative issues in Congress as well as representing fellow veterans with appeals claims in the VA and in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The 2017 Holidays for Heroes on Nantucket was a truly memorable experience, he says.
“It was our first time on Nantucket and Cape Cod, and the first time either of us had sailed,” Johns recalls of the trip he and his wife Carin took. “Everyone was so welcoming and quick to take us in, as if we had lived on the island for years. Bob Solomon and his crew could not have gone more out of their way to take care of us on the Perfect Summer. The entire weekend was one great time. We were treated like VIPs everywhere we went. My wife and I still talk about how quickly the island felt like another home, and we will most definitely return someday and bring our three children to meet everyone.”
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