Wounded Warriors celebrated at Brookfield Zoo

BROOKFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- Under the summer sun, veterans pushed through heat for 18 miles, riding bicycles to the Brookfield Zoo and a hero's welcome on Thursday.

This Soldier Ride, which carries on Friday and Saturday, is one of 30 organized by the Wounded Warrior Project nationwide to help returning veterans ease back into society together.

"All of us exchanging stories, getting to know each other. It's just a great bonding experience. It's something that you get away from after you're in the military and that re-connection during the ride is just an amazing process," said Shawn Whited, who served 25 years in the army.

He finds it soothing, too.

"Riding bikes after I retired has been a very therapeutic process for me. So to do it with my warriors is just that much more amazing," Whited added.

And riding through neighborhoods with cheering crowds bridges a divide. In fact, Soldier Ride's Robert Ferrara said the event is often a veteran's first journey into the community back home.

"A lot of them don't want to leave their house. So when they come together with their fellow service members, seeing them get back into that camaraderie again, that brotherhood, it's great for them," Ferrara explained.

Also a great reminder for Chicagoland that veterans need our support.

"They write a blank check that they can pay with up to and including their lives and we want to honor them and give them back a little bit of something," said Brookfield Zoo Director Stuart Strahl.
He encouraged veterans to visit anytime.

"Give them a fun, family friendly day where they can encounter animals and enjoy themselves," Strahl said.
Thursday, he helped them to be applauded for their sacrifice and service to this country.

"It was definitely tear-inspiring. It just kept going," recalled warrior William Schranz.

Schranz, a Navy veteran, said that the Wounded Warrior Project makes him "feel unique."

"Something I haven't felt in a really long time," Schranz said.

And it gives them all a way to journey together.
Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.