Saving Private Ryan. Taylor Urruela’s dad served in the Army, and his grandfather reached the rank of Colonel, but, he says, the movie Saving Private Ryan provided the final push that convinced the teenager he should enlist as wel.
“I was so moved by the fact that a group could do something like that, like D-Day, and that they did it,” he says.
So Taylor enlisted. He was 15 when two planes flew into the World Trade Center and another smashed into the Pentagon. Five years later, he had reached the rank of Sergeant when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under his Humvee.
In a manner of speaky, Sergeant Urruela was “lucky” in that he only lost one leg. Next to him in the Humvee, Major David Taylor died.
Sergeant Urruela spent four years at Walter Reed. He had hopes of staying in the military.
“I wanted to be the first amputee drill sergeant,” he says, but he when his time to re-enlist came up in 2011, the Army couldn’t promise him he wouldn’t be behind a desk. He opted to retire.
He says the war in the Middle East is leaving young men and women without limbs.
“They’re coming back at a rapid pace,” he says of amputees, adding that about 5,000 veterans have lost an arm, leg, or a combination of both. The military takes care of soldiers until they leave the service. Then, he says, “you’re working with a VA system that’s poor.”
Veterans missing legs or an arm may not get out as much. That’s where VetSports comes in: Sergeant Urruela is vice president of the organization aims to “help wounded veterans overcome their injuries through adaptive sports and rehabilitation programs” like softball, mud running and, as Gulfport will see this weekend, volleyball. All team members are wounded warriors: veterans sustained a life-altering injury in the military.
“We’re trying to get them out of the house,” especially, the sergeant adds, the veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
This weekend, Gulfport will honor Sergeant Urruela, Major Taylor and thousands others like them who serve and served in the United States Armed Forces. The weekend’s festivities include a volleyball game between Gulfport police and firemen and VetSports, a national nonprofit that Councilman Dan Liedtke champions. The councilman, who plays on a volleyball league, wanted to bring together VetSports and Gulfport to honor veterans.
“I’m pretty sure the military’s going to take this one,” Councilman Liedtke said “I don’t mean to undercut our first responders.”
“But it’s all about camaraderie,” Sergeant Urruela adds. “We [veterans] share everything; there’s a mutual respect between us all.”
Along with Sergeant Urruela and other wounded veterans, Major Taylor’s widow, Michelle, and his six year old son Jake, will be at the VetSports Inaugural Beach Volleyball Benefit and Veteran’s Day ceremonies this weekend. Major Taylor came home on leave for Jake’s birth. Four months later, he died.
Jake Taylor will march in the parade this Saturday.