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.
When I delivered those backpacks, they just caught on like wildfire, and I got a call three or four days later from a guy at Bethesda and Walter Reed and he said, “Can you get me any more of those?”
And that was really when the project was started. It was meant to be something to honor wounded warriors by giving them these backpacks as just kind of a thank-you gift, and it just turned into so much more because every time we went there, warriors were inspired by stories that I told them about other wounded veterans, and I started seeing that families didn’t have all the information that they needed to access their benefits.