Andrew DelRossi Biggio was near the Lenox Hotel with a fellow Afghan War veteran when he heard the Marathon bombing explosions.
“As soon as I heard them, I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “Me and my buddy looked at each other and our hearts dropped.”
Having spent 2011 on a team advising the Afghan highway patrol, Biggio, 25, had encountered more improvised explosive devices than he wanted to remember.
“It’s a scene and it’s a sound that a lot of people are looking to put behind them when they come home, and then you see this right here in your hometown,” he said. “To see it happen in Boston was just a complete nightmare.”
As the area was evacuated after the blasts, Biggio returned home to Winthrop, where he struggled with emotions the attack evoked. On Saturday, he and other veterans will stand alongside police, firefighters, and paramedics at an event celebrating bravery and sacrifice.
Biggio organized the Third Annual Wounded Vet Run, a motorcycle ride from Everett to East Boston, to honor and support veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the event’s purpose expanded after the Marathon attacks.
Officers from the Watertown and State Police are set to attend, Biggio said, and other police, fire, and medical agencies have been invited.
One of three veterans who will benefit from the fundraiser, Jake Murphy, also participated in the Marathon. A West Point graduate and Army captain, Murphy lost parts of both legs when he stepped on an IED in Kandahar Province on July 23, 2011.
Money raised by the ride will help Murphy and his wife buy a Volkswagen Jetta. Currently, they share a car and must install equipment that allows Murphy to operate the pedals with his hands each time he gets behind the wheel, then remove the apparatus each time his wife needs to drive, Biggio said.
State Representative Carlo P. Basile said last year’s Wounded Vet Run raised more than $80,000, and he expects this year’s event to attract more riders and raise more money.
“Everybody wanted to be part of this, which is great,” Basile said. “It’s going to be a good time, but especially the most important part of this is being able to hand over the money to the vets, saying we’re going to fix your house up to your needs.”
Basile, who is the House chair for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, has introduced a bill that would require the state to pay up to $75,000 to modify the homes of wounded veterans to address their mobility issues. He said Wednesday that he will amend the bill to include those injured in the marathon bombing.
Basile said his role on the committee provides an opportunity to reach out on behalf of veterans and encourage people to donate to support them.
“For me it means a lot, helping veterans,” he said.
The Wounded Vet Run will also benefit Nick Eufrazio of Plymouth, a Marine lance corporal wounded in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on Nov. 21, 2010, when an enemy grenade exploded near his head, Biggio said.
Family members took months off work to be with Eufrazio in the hospital as he struggled to recover, Biggio said, and his father spent about $30,000 out of his own pocket on housing modifications for his son, selling his own motorcycle and putting about $10,000 on credit cards, which he hasn’t yet been able to pay off.
Biggio said he plans to use funds raised Saturday to reimburse the family for those expenses, though they are unlikely to keep the money.
“Already they want to donate it back to other charities. They’re very selfless,” Biggio said.
Winthrop resident James Crosby will also benefit. The Marine lance corporal was partially paralyzed in Iraq on March 18, 2004, when a Katyusha rocket shot into the base where he was stationed and exploded a few feet away, damaging his spinal cord, Biggio said.
Despite his limited mobility, Crosby will participate in the ride, on a three-wheeled cycle that he operates using only his hands. His portion of the money raised will go toward a down payment on a home he hopes to buy in a nearby community using a Veterans Administration home loan.
Also riding will be the wounded Marines honored in last year’s ride, Sergeant Greg Caron and Corporal Evan Reichenthal. Both are moving on with their lives despite their injuries, Biggio said, with Reichenthal nearing the end of his freshman year at Assumption College in Worcester.
“We built a whole apartment for Evan on the first floor of his house — bathroom, kitchen, everything,” Biggio said. “He’s living quite comfortably.”
Caron, a native of Connecticut, is awaiting a new, accessible home currently being constructed by another veterans organization. He and his wife were able to buy a car using money raised by last year’s ride, Biggio said.
“They’re doing the best that they can in their situation,” he said of Reichenthal and Caron.”
The Third Annual Wounded Vet Run is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, with a rain date of May 4. The ride will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Boston Harley Davidson, 1760 Revere Beach Parkway, in Everett, and end at Suffolk Downs racetrack, 111 Waldemar Ave., in East Boston.
For more information, visit theyfoughtweride.com or the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bostons.vetrun. Or contact Andrew Delrossi Biggio at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-340-9402. Donation checks may be made out to “Wounded Vet Ride” and mailed to Italian American War Veterans Post 6, 60 Paris St., East Boston, MA 02128.
For photos from last year’s ride, click here.