Hundreds of residents in the Downbeach communities of Ventnor, Margate and Longport lined city streets waving American flags to give a hero’s welcome to U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Adam Fleck and his family Wednesday evening, Sept. 12.
It was the seventh time Longport American Legion Post 469 bestowed the honor on a wounded warrior, who because of injuries sustained in service to the county, may have not had a hero’s welcome at home.
Post members coordinated with U.S. military authorities to select Fleck as this year’s recipient of a weeklong vacation at the beach-block home of Longport Commissioner Jim Leeds. Post officials obtained gift certificates to dinners at area restaurants and local attractions to make it a memorable stay.
Fleck trained and worked with Navy SEALS disposing of explosive ordinance. He was in Afghanistan when an insurgent attacked his group and one of his men was killed. He and several others were badly injured. Fleck was awarded a Purple Heart and due to his injuries, was medically retired from the U.S. Navy in June.
Ventnor resident Charlotte Josephs was at the Ventnor Plaza shopping center with a big flag to welcome Fleck and his family.
“I come every year, and this year, I brought my son Jeff,” she said. “I love my country and feel sad that our troops are injured or die in war.”
Fleck, who lives in Virginia Beach his wife Christina and 4-year-old daughter Penelope, said he was glad to be traveling north as Hurricane Florence barreled down on the mid-Atlantic coastal region.
Legionnaires, members of the Ventnor Police and Fire departments and the American Legion Riders Post 352 of Somers Point were there for the transfer of the Flecks from their vehicle to a convertible stretch limousine and a caravan along Dorset and Atlantic avenues to their home-away-from-home in Longport.
“It’s our honor to greet these wounded warriors to our beaches,” Post Vice-commander Ken Ross said.
Crowds gathered at street corners along the way to thank Fleck for his service to the nation.
In Longport, the Atlantic City High School Navy Junior ROTC escorted Fleck to the gazebo where Legionnaires, the Auxiliary and the Fire Department planned a welcoming barbeque.
Mayor Nicholas Russo asked Fleck if he felt “special” to have the welcome everyone who ever put on a uniform deserves.
“This symbolizes that you represent every single wounded warrior in the United States,” Russo said. “This is small town America, big city America, this is all Americans.”
As a show of respect from one comrade to another, a member of the Legion Riders gave a ceremonial hand-off of a “challenge coin,” a protocol developed for Legion Rider presentations as a sign of gratitude for honorable service. On one side is the insignia of the Legion Riders, on the other, the U.S. Navy emblem.
Members of the Quilts of Valor Foundation South Jersey Chapter presented Fleck with a red, white and blue handmade quilt “touched by many, many hands” to recognize his sacrifice. The organization has presented more than 195,000 such quilts since the organization was formed in 2003 by the mother of an American soldier serving in Iraq.
“They gave us an inclination there would be some kind of welcome, but this is amazing,” Christina Fleck said. “We’re just tickled pink.”
Fleck will be honored at a formal reception Sunday evening at Café Luciano in Seaview Harbor.