PANAMA CITY - It began in 2009, as a forum for U.S. veterans members wounded in combat during the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Over the past five years, the Warrior's Beach Retreat has grown to encompass wounded veterans from all of our nation's conflicts.
This week's retreat makes a huge difference to all the veterans.
Warrior Beach Retreat founders Philip and Linda Cope know first hand the pain associated with war. Their son Joshua, a retired Sergeant in the U.S. Army, lost both his legs to an I.E.D. blast in Baghdad.
But the Copes turned tragedy into triumph. They organized the original forum, not just for their son and other wounded veterans, but for their families.
The retreat has grown, with the Copes inviting wounded veterans from all over the country to spend a week here, with their caregivers, to escape the daily realities of their sacrifices.
First Baptist of Panama City has hosted Thursday night's dinner program the past three years
Clyde Ellison is an Associate Pastor at First Baptist and was also a Staff Sargeant in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. When asked about hosting the event he said, "It is a blessing and that's not a trite word. It's very fulfilling for me being a former Marine, a Vietnam Veteran, to help support these young men and women who give of themselves literally, physically, mentally, emotionally."
The Salute Thursday night especially recognized veterans from the Vietnam war, who weren't welcome home at the time, because of the negative public feelings.
The guest speaker 1st Lieutenant 'Clebe' McClary, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. McClary lost his left arm and eye in Vietnam, but gained faith, courage, determination, and strength.
He said, "It's great man. Just saying thanks to the troops who served, especially to include Vietnam Veterans because we got spit on, called 'Baby killers', and [got] thrown at and it's good, it means a lot and I appreciate them including us and I appreciate what they do, I've never seen a community...I've been in fifty states thirty times and fifty countries, I've never seen anybody come together as much as this town has."
The Warrior's Beach Retreat continues through the weekend with deep sea fishing, golf and shopping.