Wounded Warrior Project History
As told by John Melia:
I was a Marine in the early ’90s, and I was injured in a Marine Corps helicopter crash that killed four of my friends and injured 14 of us. So my experience coming home as a wounded vet kind of showed me some of the gaps in service delivery to [wounded] military members.
In 2002, I was watching a news story on TV and saw a young Marine being loaded onto a helicopter, and it just brought back a flood of memories for me and I thought, “Boy, I bet that guy’s getting ready to go on the same type of journey that I did for a number of years, struggling to figure out what I was going to do after I was retired from the military.”
And so, 50 bucks and a dream started a nonprofit in my basement in Roanoke, Va. I had worked for nonprofits from ’96 until when I started WWP. I had worked at two much larger veterans organizations — Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America. And I saw that they were not prepared to deal with [some of the specific concerns of] this generation of veterans.
I assembled a group of people that I think are the best people in the business to work for us. We raised $5,000 initially, and I went and delivered these Wounded Warrior Backpacks to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda Naval [Hospital in Bethesda, Md.], and the backpacks were filled with things like underwear and socks and calling cards and a CD player, a T-shirt and a pair of shorts — the things that I wanted to have when I was evacuated. My family actually had to meet me at Dover, Del., and bring me some of that stuff — my toothbrush and my razor and all of those kind of things — when I was flown back to the States. And I knew things in the military didn’t change very quickly, and I knew that these guys would be going through the same type of stuff.