Marine who lost both legs in Afghanistan is set to visit a medical center with the prince

By Simon Perry
Updated May 27, 2009 09:05 AM
John Stillwell/AP

When he visits New York this weekend, Prince Harry has more to focus on than action on the polo field and fund-raising for his Sentebale charity for African children. He’ll pay special attention to the sacrifices made by servicemen and women around the world.

With this in mind, he has helped facilitate a dream trip to the U.S. for a young British marine who lost both his legs in a blast in Afghanistan.

Commando Joe Townsend, 21, was horrifically injured when he stepped on an anti-tank mine in Helmand province last year. Harry, 24, was serving in the same region (though they were not together) at the time.

While they are not traveling together to Manhattan, the pair will meet up privately during the prince’s two-day stay. The veteran will join the prince on a tour of the facilities of a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment clinic at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan.

The original idea came from New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who approached royal staff and said he would pay for the trip. Harry – having heard of what he went through – nominated war hero Townsend.

A St. James’s Palace spokesman tells PEOPLE that Harry was “absolutely delighted” to be able to invite Townsend. He says, “Prince Harry has long been a supporter of efforts to support the work and sacrifice of so many British servicemen and women. The prince is enormously grateful to Fred Wilpon for his generosity in making Joe’s trip possible.”

The New York visit will be Harry’s first official tour to the U.S. He will be joined for some of it by his friend and co-founder of Sentebale, Prince Seeiso of Lesotho. Seeiso has described his friend to PEOPLE as a down-to-earth fellow who “warms to children.”