Operation Beachhead Getting the Disabled Back into the Water By Pam Teel
A non-profit organization located at the Jersey Shore, Operation Beachhead grew out of one man’s desire to provide fun and adventurous beach activities to disabled U.S. Military veterans. 74–year-old Michael Ricci, a Vietnam Vet himself, made it his dream to find a way for his fellow comrades, who were wounded or disabled, to be able to enjoy the water once again. He wanted them to continue to feel the sensation of the water and the surf with the use of special- ized surfboards, boogie boards, paddleboards, kayaks, and other special gear, which includ- ed wheelchair buggies to easily maneuver going over the sand. With the help of tremendous trained volunteers, veterans who never thought that they would ever be able to go back into the water, got a chance to do just that. In addition to disabled vets; active military troops, people with PTSD, all individuals with disabilities, mentally challenged and autistic children, are also welcomed to be a part of the beach events and all the other events that Michael holds throughout the year. Michael’s vision became his mission to provide year round activities and free services to those in need. If not for the help of his 200 plus volunteers, his mission never would have happened. The only thing Michael ever asked for in return was a smile. To see the thrilled look on someone’s face as they are coming to shore on a surfboard with their volunteer, or the look on a child’s face as they are pulled around on a sled on the ice is all that Michael needs. Michael doesn’t take any pay for what he is doing. The program is supported entirely by generous donations and managed by volunteers whose sole purpose is to enhance the lives of our veteran heroes and others with challenges. Every penny goes to keep the events happening throughout the year. Michael, the founder and President of Operation Beachhead, marvels at how the program has continued to expand offering year round activities that include: Storm the Surf- where people get to experience being back in the water, Wheel chair dances, 50’s dance, Sled hockey, ice skating, wheel chair basketball, art therapy, martial arts training, Veterans pic- nics and social events, bike rides, boat rides, fishing events, and much more. The fishing team is made up of captains and crew who donate their time and experience to the veterans and to oth- ers. Summer beach events take place on the boardwalk and in the water at Spring Lake. Winter events are usually held at the Elks Club in Manasquan. There are several events throughout the year.
In 1968, Michael enlisted in the Marines and became a second Lieutenant. It wasn’t long be- fore he was on his way over to Vietnam to join in the fight. HE was injured and ended up with 23 pieces of Shrapnel embedded into his body. He was covered head to toe in bandages. He took shrapnel in his head, face, hands, legs, shoulder and his Achilles heel. To this day he still car- ries the shrapnel in his body and he can’t feel his right foot. He was awarded the Purple Heart. It took a long time for him to heal but he found that a good swimming regiment, over time, helped to bring back movement in his legs and hands. Michael became a high school teacher and found solace in sports. In 2013, he was selected as a recipient of the NJ Heroes Award from the then Governor’s wife, Mary Pat Christie. The award recognizes people and organizations that work to improve and enhance the lives of New Jersey residents. Over the past six years, Michael also has been suffering the effects of Agent Orange and has gotten heart disease from it, but Michael is not going to let anything slow him down. He continues on with his mission with only one goal in mind, to make people feel alive again and to put a smile on their faces! Every morning that Michael wakes up, he thanks God for another day, a day he selflessly uses to make other people happy. If you would like to help Michael bring more smiles to people’s faces and keep his mission going, please donate to: Operation Beachhead, P.O. Box 333, Manasquan, N.J., 08736. Remember every cent you send goes to fund the yearly events. Google them at: Operation Beachhead. Instagram.com/opbeachheadnj • Michael@opbeach- head.org