BOSTON - Days after the Boston Marathon bombings, B.J. Ganem was one of the wounded veterans who met with survivors who had lost a limb or limbs in the April 15 attack.
He thought he'd do a lot of hand holding and hearing crying, but the 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran instead saw resilience.
The new amputees asked a lot of questions about his prosthetic leg, which replaced the left leg he lost below his knee after an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq in 2004. He even took off the artificial limb and let them hold it.
Now, as marathon amputees walk on their own prosthetic limbs, Ganem is looking forward to catching up with them in Boston on Thursday. A dozen military veterans who have undergone an amputation will meet with 11 marathon amputees as part of an effort by a Chicago-area nonprofit called Operation Warrior Wishes.
"It's going to be good to see how far they've come," said Ganem, who lives in Reedsburg, Wis.
The nonprofit's founders, Craig Steichen, 55, and his son Matt, 29, went on a quest last year to bring wounded vets to football games at 32 NFL stadiums in 17 weeks. Craig Steichen said they met their goal, and even picked up a world record in the meantime for game attendance.
But with the New England Patriots' home season opener against the New York Jets on Thursday, Steichen said the nonprofit was interested in not only bringing wounded vets to the game, but getting them together with marathon amputees. The groups will meet in Boston before going to the game together.
He said the idea is to let the veterans inspire the bombing survivors, and to send a message to fans who will see them all on the field before the game that life goes on and can be good again. Steichen said Operation Warrior Wishes will be collecting donations on its website between Sept. 12 and Sept. 22 that will be divided between the nonprofit and The One Fund, which benefits marathon victims.
Mery Daniel, a medical school graduate who lost part of her left leg in the marathon bombings, said she's looking forward to meeting the veterans. The 31-year-old Boston resident said that while marathon amputees didn't enlist to fight a war, they were exposed to the same kind of violence.
"We share now a common bond," Daniel said. "We share similar stories and similar injuries."
Chris Claude, a 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran who lives in Blakeslee, Pa., said meeting with marathon amputees will be his chance to provide the kind of support he got after the amputation of his right leg above the knee following a 2005 bomb blast in Iraq. He also likes the idea of the amputees coming out on the field together.
"It's another way for people in the crowd to see the human spirit can't be broken," he said.