LONGPORT — It was a hero’s welcome Wednesday, Sept. 22, for U.S. Army Major Todd Barrios and his wife Mari, the guests of honor for the 10th annual Wounded Warrior Week organized by the Longport American Legion Post 469. Here from Crestview, Florida, the couple was surprised with a parade in their honor that began at Ventnor Plaza and ended at Borough Hall in Longport.
Escorted by the American Legion Riders, fire trucks and emergency vehicles from all three Downbeach communities, a white convertible limo awaited the couple when they arrived in Ventnor. The parade was a complete surprise to Maj. Barrios and his wife as were the scores of people who lined the parade route waving flags and homemade signs. From toddlers to seniors, the message thanking this wounded warrior for his service and welcoming the couple was loud and clear. Legion Post Commander, Larry Pacentrilli said, “I hope the parade will be a fitting conduit for people to say thank you to our wounded warrior for what he has done for all of us. What they see along the way, all the flags and all the people, we hope that is a wonderful memory they take with them to last a lifetime.” It went off without a hitch and the Barrios were all smiles, waving from atop their limo.
Out to welcome Maj. Barrios and his wife to Longport were Lisa and Bob Stern who brought their flag to wave at 30th St. “We wanted to be here and show our support for all veterans. I work with veterans to help transition them from their military service into successful civilian life,” said Lisa Stern. Bob Stern is the son of Herb Stern, a member of Legion Post #469. “My dad served in World War II and I volunteer to help veterans organizations think it is important to show our support,” added Bob Stern.
Brigantine teachers Laura Mittleman, Mindy Pomatto, Kathy Sharp, and Kathy O’Brien waved flags and held up a poster with an aerial view of their students standing in the shape of a giant “thank you” on the playground for the wounded warrior. “We wanted to show our support,” said Pomatto.
Maj. Barrios began his military service in the Marines in 1992 but switched to the Army to get into Special Forces. He later earned his degree to become an officer. But the lure of the Special Forces was a calling to Barrios and he completed the training a second time and returned to the Army Special Forces. He has served multiple deployments in Suriname, Colombia and Afghanistan. He was deployed in 2020 to Afghanistan when he was wounded, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. He is still recovering from his injuries. Among the accommodations Maj. Barrios earned are the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.
The Longport American Legion Wounded Warrior Week started more than ten years ago with members of Post 469 traveling to Walter Reed Army Hospital to visit with soldiers who had been wounded. Pacentrilli said it was member Donal Sheehan who suggested they invite a wounded warrior to Longport and treat the soldier and their family to an all-expenses paid vacation for some R and R and as a way to say thank you to one brave soldier. The Legion Post members as well as the community have welcomed their wounded warrior to Longport for a decade.
“I don’t know if I can come up with enough words to say thank you to our members, our supporters, contributors and to our community for their support of Wounded Warrior Week,” said Pacentrilli. “This has become something that our entire community looks forward to.” Pacentrilli added, “In the past so many veterans had a sense that people did not care about the men and women in the military. We want them to know we do care. Maj. Barrios knows we care and he is very appreciative of this experience.”
Over the course of the week, Maj. Barrios and his wife are staying in a beach block home in Longport and will enjoy a fishing trip, dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse, a casino show with Pat Benatar, a trip to Cape May, a barbeque in their honor and hopefully the weather cooperates and they get to enjoy the beautiful Longport beach.
To contribute to next years Wounded Warrior Week contact American Legion Post 469, PO Box 441, Longport, NJ 08403.