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Catching fish at a farm pond on a bright and sunny Saturday in spring can do a lot to lift one’s spirits. When you add in good food and the companionship of men and women with the shared background of serving their country in time of war, the experience can be much more meaningful.
Such was the case with 20 wounded veterans who participated in the third annual Wounded Warrior Fishing Tournament sponsored by American Legion Post 221 at Jim and Boo Smythe’s Mt. Olympus Farm on U.S. 1 in Caroline County.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have multiplied the ranks of wounded servicemen, leaving many thousands of them with severe, even incapacitating injuries, which can make the transition into civilian life a challenging one.
Over the years, military medical facilities and the Veterans Administration have become quite proficient at patching up battle casualties. What happens after that is sometimes left to chance.
With a motto of “The Greatest Casualty is Being Forgotten,” the Wounded Warrior Project helps veterans deal with various problems and concerns, providing financial help, employment and education opportunities and assistance in socializing and adjusting to their new lives, according to Jimmy Brinkley, the Caroline County Wounded Warrior Program and Veteran Peer Specialist for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.
Started in Roanoke, Virginia in 2003 by John Melia, who was wounded in a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crash in Somalia a decade before, the Wounded Warrior Project spread across the nation and now serves more than 36,000 registered “alumni.”
Virginia has more than 825,000 veterans, and the program here is especially strong, Brinkley noted. “We are nonprofit and divided into five regions in Virginia. We receive donations from individuals and corporations, and 100 percent of the donations go back to veterans,” he added.
Assistance can be given in a variety of ways, including help in paying rent, making car repairs, career training, physical and emotional health counseling, or just a day of camaraderie with fellow vets.
“We try to keep them from falling through the cracks,” Brinkley noted.
One of the wounded veterans participating Saturday was Jason Jordan of Lake Land’Or, who was medically retired from the Marine Corps just last year after being wounded during his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Although he had never tried his hand at fishing before, he found out about the event through the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment and gave it a go.
“I’ve met a lot of people today who served like me,” Jordan said while enjoying barbecue and all the trimmings after a long and enjoyable day at the farm pond.
Many of the novice fishermen were paired with experienced anglers who showed them the ropes. That and some beginners’ luck paid off for Jordan.
He won dinner for two at Timbers Restaurant in Ladysmith and a new rod and reel for catching the most fish (13), which is a new event record.
It was a day of firsts.
Top honors went to Dan Duisuman, who landed a 22-inch bass, and Gerald Wayne Williams of Dahlgren, who caught a 32-inch, 17-pound catfish that even surprised the pond owners. Duisuman and Williams also took home gift certificates for dinner at Timbers and new rod and reel outfits.
There were a number of other prizes given out, including dinner for two at Guiseppe’s in Ladysmith, which went to Frank Anaker, who caught the smallest fish.
American Legion Post 221 Commander Ron Curlings, who started the event in 2011, said it takes a lot of effort by a lot of people to make it all happen.
“Three years ago today we had our first tournament here, and it has been three years and one month since I made a phone call to Mr. Smythe and said, ‘Let’s talk about this,’” said Curlings, admitting that he anticipated it would take a full year to put it all together.
Smythe had replied, “Why wait until next spring?” Curlings said.
In addition to the Smythes, Mt. Olympus Farm, and the Legionnaires from Post 221 in Bowling Green, Curlings gave credit to the members of Reedy Church Ruritan Club and Rehobeth United Methodist Church, who prepared and served the food.
Corporate donations came from Union Bank, Aqua America, Timbers, Guiseppi’s, Bowling Green Pizza Hut, Carrabas, O’Charley’s, Bass Pro Shop, Green Top’s, Mikes Outdoor Shop, Exxon of Carmel Church, Coastal Gas, Harry’s Plumbing, Wal-Mart, Martins, BJ’s and Costco.
More information on the Wounded Warrior Program can be found at www.wearevirginiaveterans.org.