(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Marine Corporal Evan Reichenthal was just 20 years old and a month into his deployment in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device during a foot patrol on Jan. 5, 2011. The explosion severed Reichenthal’s right leg, damaged his left calf, destroyed his right elbow, and sent shrapnel throughout much of his body.
Corporal Greg Caron was on his second deployment, having served from 2008 to 2009 in Iraq, when he volunteered to be point man on a patrol of a suspected al-Qaida safehouse in southern Afghanistan last Nov. 12. Caron was searching for IEDs with a metal detector when he stepped onto a pressure plate made of wood, triggering an explosion that severed both legs below the knee.
For both men, the months after their injuries were marked by multiple surgeries, grueling physical therapy, and the acceptance of a life that would be lived with prosthetic limbs and mobility limitations. Now, as they prepare to return home to New England, a fellow Marine wants to see that they can lead normal lives.
Everett native Andrew DelRossi Biggio has organized Boston’s Second Annual Wounded Vet Ride, a motorcycle ride from Everett to East Boston, to benefit Reichenthal and Caron, who plan to attend the event on April 28. So far around 200 riders have pre-registered for the ride, while nearly 900 have signed up through a Facebook group to participate.
The ride will be followed by a cookout and celebration at the Italian American War Veterans Post 6 in East Boston, where Biggio serves as sergeant-at-arms. Characteristically modest, Biggio is quick to point out that a committee of around 15 motorcyclists has helped plan the event.
“I was embarrassed,” Biggio said. “I was looking his mother in the eyes and I was like, ‘Nobody’s contacted you, nobody’s reached out to you, nobody’s offered to do anything?’ She’s like, ‘No,’ and I felt like it was out of a movie, like this can’t be happening.”
With Reichenthal returning to Princeton soon and planning to begin Assumption College in Worcester in the fall, Biggio is determined to see that his home will have the accommodations he needs.
Reichenthal is looking forward to being home and eventually living on his own. Rather than dwell on the injury that cost him a leg and has rendered his right hand nearly useless, he described the explosion as “kind of just another memory. Rather unpleasant, but it’s just another event.”
“I don’t blow it out of proportion,” Reichenthal said. “It’s not going to slow me down.”
A native of Ellington, Conn., Greg Caron will soon have a specially adapted home there, constructed free of charge by Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that provides homes for severely injured veterans. His portion of the money raised by the ride will go to the Greg Caron Family Fund, to be disbursed to organizations that have supported Caron through his recovery.
In a phone interview on Thursday, Jon Caron said his brother is doing well with his physical therapy, trying out new prostheses, and looking forward to returning to Connecticut.
“He’s making a speedy recovery, and actually it’s amazing how well he took it,” he said. “He tells us all the time that it is what it is, and it’s not going to change his life. He’s just going to make the best of it.”
Jon Caron said in the months since the explosion, his brother has been focused mostly on his recovery, but after his return will likely return to college to complete his degree and pursue a career in business.
Jon Caron also expressed gratitude to his friend Biggio for his support of Greg Caron and the family. “He’s an amazing man,” Caron said. “He’s done a whole lot for us.”
In a recent interview, Biggio said he was interested military service since his early childhood, but it became a passion after he witnessed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as an eighth-grader.
“Nine-eleven added that extra push to get over there as soon as possible,” he said.
As he prepared to graduate from Malden Catholic High School in 2006, Biggio’s family encouraged him to focus on his education instead, so he made a deal: he would go to college, majoring in sociology at Suffolk University, but join the Marine Reserves at the same time.
Biggio was mobilized within a year and deployed to Iraq in August 2008, serving seven months on a security detail at Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq. He later served in Afghanistan on a police advisory team assisting the Afghan highway patrol from January 2011 to January 2012.
Between those deployments, Biggio began meeting wounded veterans and their families. He felt compelled to help vets scarred by war and honor those lost, and co-founded the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial, a group working to build a monument to Bay State service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also organized the first Wounded Vet Run in 2010, as a benefit for Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, an Army private wounded by an explosion in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2007. The $20,000 raised went to housing modifications that the Veterans Administration wouldn’t pay for and to support veteran’s organizations that had helped support Mannion-Brodeur.
For this year’s ride, State Representative Carlo Basile will be riding his Harley and is supplying much of the food for the cookout that will follow. Basile, 40, got involved when Biggio called him and asked if he could help out. He had praise for Biggio during a recent interview in East Boston.
“I consider him a hero,” Basile said of Biggio. “When he told me about this story, it broke my heart and I got involved.”
Basile was so moved by the sacrifice and the challenges faced by wounded veterans like Reichenthal and Caron that he has drafted legislation that would require the state to pay for home modifications for veterans who lose a limb in war. He said every legislator he’s spoken with about the bill has offered to co-sign it.
“To me, it’s basically these kids are going to war — and that’s what they are, they’re kids — they’re giving their country their arms and their legs, literally, and we can’t give them a modified bathroom or kitchen?” Basile said. “I think it’s a disgrace.”
The Second Annual Wounded Vet Run is scheduled for Saturday, April 28, with a rain date of May 5. The ride will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Boston Harley Davidson, 1760 Revere Beach Parkway, in Everett and will end one hour later at the Italian American War Veterans Post 6, 60 Paris St. in East Boston.
For more information, visit http://theyfoughtweride.com/ or the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/129151317199791/. Or contact Andrew Delrossi Biggio at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-340-9402. Donation checks may be made out to “Wounded Vet Ride” and mailed to Italian American War Veterans Post 6, 60 Paris St., East Boston, MA 02128.