Old Saybrook — Dignitaries and townspeople alike honored a favorite son here Saturday, embodying the credo that no wounded veteran, like no soldier, shall be left behind.
Hundreds greeted Marine Sgt. David Tupper, his wife Caroline and their three young children as a limousine delivered them to Fireman's Field on Elm Street for a day-long event organized to help defray the cost of Tupper's transition back to civilian life.
A 2002 graduate of Old Saybrook High School, Tupper, whose squad was known as the "Wild Boys," served two tours in Iraq and a third in Afghanistan, and began exhibiting the concussive effects of combat explosions upon returning to the United States last fall. He has since lost feeling in his legs.
He experiences tremors, vision problems and some short-term memory loss.
Diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, Tupper has been recovering at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond, Va.
He and his family flew Saturday from Richmond to Groton-New London Airport courtesy of local businessman Herb Chambers, who made his private jet available, event organizers said. Saybrook Ford provided the limousine service from Groton to Old Saybrook.
Tupper, seated in a wheelchair, spoke to the fundraiser's afternoon audience, his wife and children with him on an elevated stage.
"Today is humbling for us all," he said. "I'm not the only one who has sacrificed. I hope other communities will come forward to help those in need."
Speakers who preceded him, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and state Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, expressed their gratitude for Tupper's contribution to his country and praised the town for rallying around him and his family. Tupper's parents and siblings live in Old Saybrook.
Carl Fortuna, the town's first selectman, called Tupper "a unique and exemplary citizen."
Old Saybrook High School, Blumenthal said, is where Tupper became "an athlete, a scholar and a patriot."
"There is no greater American today than David Tupper," the senator said. "There are other David Tuppers out there; they need our help, too."
Wyman looked out at the audience and said, "This is what David fought for — to have a home and a community like this ..."
Event organizer Max Sabrin surprised Tupper by announcing that The Independence Fund, an organization that helps severely wounded war veterans, was providing him with a $15,000 custom-built, all-terrain wheelchair known as a track chair.
Former Congressman Rob Simmons, a retired Army colonel, spoke earlier in the day, reminding the audience that freedom comes at a price that Tupper and those like him pay.
The event's organizers included Tupper's close friends Brian Ziolkovski, David Perrotti and Scott Schoonmaker and Tupper's brother-in-law, David Chevrette.
When they learned of Tupper's situation, they got together to plan "a spaghetti dinner, a cookout or something," Ziolkovski said. "But then it took off."