In the summer of 2017, Army veteran Tyler Wilson, a paraplegic, traveled to Hawaii with his wife and baby son. Army veteran Josh Hargis, a double leg amputee, went to Ireland the summer of 2018. This October, Michael Jernigan, a retired marine who lost his sight, will go with his wife to Hawaii.
These are three of 32 disabled veterans who have been able to vacation, free of charge, thanks to Vacations for Warriors. Six years ago Bob DeMonbrun founded the nonprofit organization that funds two-week long trips to popular destinations like Hawaii, Yellowstone, the Caribbean and Disney World.
DeMonbrun, a veteran who served in the Vietnam era, sees his nonprofit as a way to honor families who face lifelong challenges. He wasn’t injured in the service but feels for those who were. Recipients of the vacations have debilitating mental and physical disabilities.
“I wanted to help soldiers and their families,” DeMonbrun, of Highlands Ranch, said. “We just want to bring some joy to their lives after years of rehab and injuries and family separation.”
At 6 p.m. May 11, Vacations for Warriors will host its fifth Luau Paniolo — a mix of a Hawaiian luau and cowboy style pig roast — at Elks Lodge 1650, 5749 S Curtice St., Littleton.
Sold at the door, a $35 ticket covers food and nonalcoholic drinks. Two hunting tags for antelope on a 4,000-acre ranch between Fort Collins and Laramie, among other items, will be auctioned off. Winners of a raffle for a seven-day Caribbean cruise will be announced.
There will be music and dancing. Some of the wounded veterans will give speeches.
“You get to meet (people) who are helping,” said Jeff Ludwig, who is on the Vacation for Warriors board of directors. “Bring a tissue.”
Funds raised at Luau Paniolo will help send three veterans, including Jernigan, to a destination of their choice this year. Each trip costs about $10,000, according to DeMonbrun.
On vacation, the recipients and their families do activities — fishing, snorkeling, golfing. They take helicopter and boat tours. They stay in nice hotels and dine out.
For a moment in time they are distracted from the hardships they’ve endured.
“If we can show these guys some joy and their families some joy,” DeMonbrun said, “it really helps them.”
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