For Brian Dwyer, the turnout at the annual motorcycle ride to honor his brother Joseph becomes more impressive each year.
That’s because as more time passes -- since the start of the Iraq war, his brother’s enlistment in the Army and battle with post-traumatic stress disorder that caused him to take his own life -- Brian Dwyer is even happier to see the faces of people who care.
“It’s nice to know America’s not dead,” said Dwyer, 43, of Miller Place. “People still know what’s going on, people are still supportive.”
About 400 people attended the fourth annual PFC Joseph Dwyer Hero Rally and Motorcycle Run in Farmingville on Sunday to benefit the Lindenhurst-based veteran’s group 9-1-1 Veterans.
The roar of motorcycle engines, the smell of barbecue and an early summer sun kept spirits high, but the event was peppered with somber moments -- a moment of silence for the veterans lost, a heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer for the Dwyer family and others suffering.
Chris Delaney, head volunteer of 9-1-1 Veterans, said he expected to raise about $10,000, which is used to provide financial assistance to Long Island veterans of all wars. But just as important as raising money, he said, is raising awareness.
Delaney, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve who served in Iraq and a family friend of the Dwyers, said when Joseph Dwyer returned home from war he was a “shell of the person he was” before. He said by failing to recognize that Joseph Dwyer needed help, the community let the Dwyer family down.
“We can no longer ignore the human suffering that goes along with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he told the crowd before Sunday’s ride. “This has plagued all our troops since the earliest wars. We can no longer sweep it under the rug and we can no longer let these families bear that burden by themselves.”
Warren Schlicker, of Lake Grove, is a road captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, which provides a motorcycle escort for returning veterans or at funeral services for vets.
Schlicker, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said today’s vets are dealing with a lot of psychological trauma because of the nuances of modern warfare.
“The people that are coming home from Afghanistan have a lot of stress they are going through,” he said. “They have to worry about things like IEDs. You step one foot back and you’re not there anymore.”
He said Sunday’s event was a reminder that the public should support their veterans and take an active role in welcoming them home.
Brian Dwyer, who rode his brother Joseph’s Harley Davidson in the ride, was joined at the event by his siblings, nieces and nephews along with Joseph’s wife Matina and 6-year-old daughter Meagan.
He said the resounding message Sunday was that the people gathered there cared about doing what’s right. It reminded him of his brother, who enlisted in the Army two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“He wanted to do the right thing by his country,” he said. “And we’ve got tons of people out here doing the right thing by supporting these men and the injuries they’re coming back with.”