By Bonnie HeaterMay 23, 2011
Good old Southern hospitality was recently extended to the Wounded Warriors of Fort Gordon. Charlie and Trudy Lewis of Thomson, Ga., opened up their farm for the fourth consecutive year for Wounded Warriors and their families to sit on the banks of their ponds to fish and relax.
It was Tim Cox and Jerry Sessions, both retired Sgts. 1st Class, who co-organized the annual event. As Tim Cox was setting up at the Lewis' farm, Sessions was giving the safety briefing at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Building 19750, on Chamberlain Avenue on post. Sessions reminded the volunteers for the event, Soldiers from the Advanced Leadership Course, Class 25Q004 and 25N003 of the Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy, the reason for the annual event. "We do this as a form of mental healing," said Sessions.
The retired Army sergeant explained to Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion and their family members that they could fish anywhere the grass was cut on the Lewis' farm. "They have two ponds to fish in which are stocked with bass, catfish and hybrid breams," said Sessions.
After the safety briefing, volunteers Catherine Ashley, known affectionately as "Granny" and Gabriele Barnett, both members of the Women's Auxiliary for American Legion Post 192 in Evans, served hot coffee, orange juice and donuts for those up at 5 a.m. April 30 to make the trip to the Lewis' farm.
The day was pleasant. The Wounded Warriors traveled via Army bus driven by volunteer Thomas James Sr., and the rest of the volunteers convoyed in their private vehicles. At the Lewis' farm, new fishing poles stood straight and tall as Soldiers in formation around the fence near the largest pond. A tent was set up with a table inside filled full of assorted live bait and lures.
Charles and Trudy Lewis greeted the Soldiers and their families. "Trudy and I never served in the military," explained Charlie [Lewis]. "We do this each year to give back to our Patriots." After his brief comments he recommended the use of the bright pink plastic worms. "We have caught a lot of bass with those worms," he said.
Once the fishing gear was selected, Soldiers and their families chose their fishing spots. Some Soldiers elected to fish along the banks of the two manmade ponds. Others fished from the wooden pier or the gazebo. Volunteers prepared fishing rods with bait for those who had never fished before and helped coach them.
Other volunteers riding in golf carts delivered snacks, fresh bait and beverages to the Wounded Warriors. "The idea for the day's event is just to allow them some time to relax," said Sessions.
Fish caught were weighed on the spot by RNCOA volunteers: Staff Sgts. Joshua Brandt, Jason Cadieux, Geoffrey (GW) Witt and Sgt. Chester Duvall.
It didn't take long once the poles were lowered into the pond water before the first fish was caught. Sgt. Jimmy Sheldon of second platoon, Company A, Warrior Transition Battalion, caught the first fish at 7:30 that morning using a pink rubber worm as bait. The large-mouthed Bass weighed 6.10 pounds.
Fishing continued until 10:30 a.m. when it was time for the award presentation. Before prizes were given out Col. Robert Barker, the Director of Capabilities, Development and Integration Directorate in Signal Towers at Fort Gordon and guest speaker, spoke briefly. "Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn sends his regrets that he could not be here today," said Barker. "There's no way we can repay you," he said as he looked around to each Wounded Warrior, "for the sacrifices you have made for your country. It's our hope you had a good time today and we thank you for your service."
Following the short speech, Charlie Lewis personally presented $50 to Alexandrea Berry, age 9, daughter of Reginald Berry, for catching the largest fish, a 2 pound bass. Sebastian Melendez, age 5, received $50 from Lewis for catching the most fish. His total catch for the day was 10 pounds. Sebastian is the son of Maj. Wanda Virau, a physician at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, and Manuel Melendez, a Department of the Army police officer at Fort Gordon. Both were volunteers for the day's event.
Door prizes went only to the Wounded Warriors. There was a prize for everyone. Lots of new fishing poles and gift cards donated by local merchants were given away. The top prize, an X-Box 360 donated by Best Buy of Augusta, went to Robert Duff. Stacey Brewer, a Business Solutions advisor for the Augusta Best Buyer store, presented Duff with the gift.
Following the gift presentation, a fish fry was held with assorted homemade side dishes and desserts. David and Millie Pitstick with assistance from Bob Wilson fried the fish the Wounded Warriors caught in addition to fish donated by Island SeaFoods of Augusta. Ed Toelle of the Fort Gordon public affairs office made is homemade hushpuppies. He's been coming out every year since the fishing tournament started to prepare these treats for the Soldiers. Also helping out were Dr. Jim Edison, Robbi Gilmore, Adam Hubbard, and James Edison. Michael Scott, a Vietnam veteran and Army retiree, filleted the fish caught by the Wounded Warriors for the fish fry.
Before leaving everyone pitched in and put away tables and policed up the area. A lot of Soldiers left the Lewis farm knowing firsthand the comforting and soothing effects of Southern hospitality.