Gone Fishing: Texas Town Hosts Fishing Tournament for Wounded Warriors
May 5, 2008
PORT O'CONNOR, Texas (Army News Service, May 5, 2008) - More than 125 wounded Soldiers and their Families were able to forget about hospitals, doctors and physical therapy during a day of fishing, relaxation and old-fashioned Texas barbeque Saturday.
About 135 local fishermen volunteered their time and boats during the second annual Warrior's Weekend to take wounded warriors from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C., Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, N.C., out on the Gulf of Mexico while cheering town residents greeted the six buses of troops with flags, signs, hugs and handshakes.
One young Cub Scout even held a sign that read "Soldier: I want to be just like you."
"This is really great," said Spc. Bryan Ludwig of Fort Hood's Warrior Transition Unit. "This is a beautiful weekend. A lot of people came out to support us. Back in our old units, we wouldn't have done anything like this, so this is really brand-new to us."
The event wasn't founded by an organization or company, but came to life last year when National Guard veteran Ron Kocian wanted to do something nice for wounded Soldiers and called on his buddies, Vietnam veterans Carl Baludau and Bobby Ray Edwards, to help. The entire town jumped on board, as well as other communities around the Texas Gulf Coast, and raised about $90,000 to bring the Soldiers and their Families to Port O'Connor this year.
"Everyone says they support the troops, buys a yellow ribbon and puts that on their cars. Well, I don't really know what that means," Kocian said. "But you can come down here and really put those words into action. That's why we did this. And for the troops to have a day...of rest from their troubles and rehab and worries. It just blows my mind that these guys are willing to fly down from Fort Bragg, to fly down from Walter Reed, to take a four-hour flight and a three-hour bus ride to go fishing for three or four hours...It's a labor of love."
"I just think we need to appreciate the troops. My dad was from Vietnam and you know about how they were treated when they came back," said Tom Fordiani, who volunteered his boat. "We had a good time today. It was a lot of fun."
The Soldiers ranged from expert fishermen like Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Young, who won trophies for catching the most fish overall - 12 - as well as the second-largest redfish, to Spc. Andrew Peter, who traveled from Fort Bragg to go fishing for the first time.
"It was pretty cool. I was like 'Ah, does this feel like I've got a fish'' This weekend is great. I love it. It makes me feel a lot better than going to therapy every day," Peter said as he watched volunteers clean his 23-inch redfish.
Other Soldiers weren't so lucky. Spc. Michael Sebren caught a seagull. The bird swooped in and caught his bait, hook and fishing line still attached, before any fish had a chance to bite. Then the bird took off and Sebren had to reel the seagull in like a kite to get his gear back, which earned him a second-place award for the best hard-luck story, a fishing pole and a story he admits he can use for years.
But he had a smile on his face as he told the story, as did most of the Soldiers who compared fish tales. Later, during the barbeque, they hugged Kocian and Bludau and other organizers and thanked them for the weekend.
"I love fishing," said Pfc. Nathan Holmgard. "I haven't been fishing in quite a while so I definitely wanted to come...I had the option of coming down here and having a great time or sitting in my apartment doing nothing. It was awesome. Especially considering I've never done saltwater fishing, this was great. They took me out to see the Gulf of Mexico and they took me through some real, real shallow water that I guess most people don't get to go out and see...A lot of new experiences. We saw dolphins. We had a great time."
The evening's entertainment included a precision jump by the 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Freefall Team and a keynote address from Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams of the 18th Airborne Corps, who talked about how important American support was to Soldiers.
Soldiers who arrived in town Friday were also treated to a fish fry complete with hundreds of placemats made by local school children thanking them for their service.
"If I get the chance, I'll definitely be back," said Young who had come from Brooke Army Medical Center. He added that the event was "amazing."