After some time in New York, the Pilgrim Bandits moved down to Washington. First, we went to the Walter Reed Military Hospital for Soldiers and Veterans.
This is the biggest hospital you will ever see, with accommodation for hundreds of families. There is every treatment possible available for the guys.
It’s so different in America. Here we are told not to wear uniform in the street or show any sign that we are soldiers. But if you go to a concert in America, the first thing that happens is that all servicemen and firemen and veterans are asked to stand, so they can be applauded and folk can shake their hands. If you are caught pretending to have been a soldier it’s actually a very serious offence known ‘as theft of valour’.
We then moved to Quantico, the headquarters of the FBI. We were shown around by a man who looked just like you would expect - massive and very scary with very dark glasses and very shiny black shoes. You weren’t allowed to take any pictures at all, of course, because there were lots of undercover people in training.
We were shown the gallery of heroes - pictures of FBI agents who lost their lives in the course of duty.
We were amazed because there were very few. The agent told us this was because criminals know that if they touch an officer of the FBI they will be hunted to the ends of the earth.
In a lot of ways it was a very strange tour. No questions to be asked and no looking in the wrong places!
One thing we never became used to was the very strange habit in the USA of putting maple syrup on absolutely everything they ate. Pancakes, burgers, bacon, barbecue. Now I like sweet things, make no mistake, but this was just wrong!
Our last stop was Arlington military cemetery. Any member of the United States Armed Forces who has served abroad is entitled to be buried at Arlington if that is what they wish. As you can imagine it is enormous.
There is an honour guard present 24/7 whatever the weather, and it is a beautiful peaceful place. Every grave is the same size no matter what rank or honours the soldier received.
We made sure to wear shirts and ties and we took flowers to lay on the grave of special forces soldiers killed in recent conflict.
Most of us had been close enough to know just how lucky we were.
When we flew back to the UK, the double amputees were upgraded to business class by BA. It’s mad, but double amputees actually need more space than people with legs because prosthetics can’t fold up and fit into the space. I spent the entire flight fast asleep in my comfortable little pod.
‘That’s the way to travel,’ I said to myself as I watched the rest of the team fold themselves and struggle off the plane looking as if they hadn’t slept for a month. Their replies were unprintable.
* Ben Parkinson, Doncaster war veteran and hero reports from a U.S. tour with his charity Pilgrim Bandits