A Boy Scout presents the colors before a red-and-purple sunrise while soldiers saluted and "The Star-Spangled Banner" played at the start of Saturday's Take A Soldier Fishing day at Lake Fork. Ninety-five volunteers accompanied wounded veterans for a day of angling, with the stated goal of "getting the soldiers out to experience community support and see that they are still cared about," said Mike Nashif, a Marine and president of the Combat Warriors Crisis Network.
Photo By John Astrello
Local volunteers take dozens of wounded veterans fishing for
A Day Away from the Pain of War
By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer
Oct. 1, 2008 - Sunrise over a lake can be a beautiful sight, but the scene Saturday at Lake Fork Marina was especially majestic as the flag flew, soldiers saluted and the national anthem played, kicking of the first Take A Soldier Fishing event in the area.
"To see the sun coming up on the horizon with a little bit of red and purple, and the silhouette of those Boy Scouts on the peninsula raising the flag while the national anthem played -- it was just breathtaking," said Karl Kilgore, a member of the Lindale B.A.S.S. Club that helped organize the event. "It was really a special moment."
The one-day event targeted wounded warriors and veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Coast Guard and Reserves from across the state of Texas.
"This was for anyone who has ever raised their right hand and sworn to uphold the Constitution," said Mike Nashif, a Marine and president of the Combat Warriors Crisis Network, which brought 35 soldiers from Fort Hood's "Wounded Warriors Brigade."
Ninety-five soldiers and 95 volunteers with boats turned out for the day of fishing, fun, food and fellowship.
"This wasn't about accolades -- it was about getting the soldiers out to experience community support and see that they are still cared about," said Nashif.
The veterans at the event have sustained a wide variety of injuries, dealing with everything from reattached limbs to brain-related disorders.
"Others are just broken down by the military," Nashif said. "Just to see the smiles on their faces and get them away for the weekend means so much."
Lt. Col. Al Telese, winner of the Big Bass category and a Wounded Warrior prior to his Aug. 27 retirement, said an event such as this is emotionally uplifting for the men who have fought for their country, many of whom are now fighting for their medical benefits.
"Many that have been wounded have to go through so much garbage," Telese said. "You hear all kinds of stories. Events like this remind them what it's like to be back in the real world."
Kilgore, an alternative school teacher from Grand Saline, has no military background himself but felt strongly about bringing the event to the area due to the loss of an old college friend involved in the first Gulf War.
"He came back with all these rashes and skin irritations, but the government kept telling him for years that there were no chemicals used over there," Kilgore recalled. "Then, after he killed himself they decided, 'Yeah, there was,' and they started giving treatment."
Kilgore said he continues to hear of soldiers coming home and not getting the health care they deserve. He wanted to do something to help the ones who have come back and are struggling with various post-combat issues.
"They really ought to be treated a whole lot better," he said. "They put their lives on the line for this country, and they shouldn't have to come home and beg for their health care when they get back."
A Community's Support
Kilgore said he pitched the idea for the fishing event to club members about eight months ago. Since then, he has been gratefully surprised by the support the Lake Fork and area communities have shown.
Rick Loomis with Loomis Lodge was the first person Kilgore called, explaining his plans for the event.
"I asked him if he would give us a good deal on rooms, and he said, 'How about a free deal on rooms? You can have the whole lodge,'" Kilgore recalled. "That's how everyone has been."
Lake Fork fishing guide Clint Wright already had two soldiers booked for a trip the weekend of the 27th. When he heard about Take A Soldier Fishing, he called Kilgore and wanted on board for the special cause. He gave the soldiers their money back and served as their volunteer boat driver and guide. The team ended up the winners of the Big Stringer award.
"That's the kind of participation we've had from everybody," said Kilgore. "I would love to see this become an annual event. I've had lots of positive feedback and people wanting to help again."
Door prizes, food and accommodations were provided by Loomis Lodge and Guide Service; Wave Industries of Yantis; Scenic 515 Cabins; Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits; East Texas Christian Bass Anglers; Wood County Co-Op; Burnin' Stump Lodge; Mack's Discount Tackle of Lindale; Fisherman's Cove Marina; Pope's Landing; Pepsi Bottling Company- Tyler; Kistler Rods; Lake Fork Marina; Lake Fork Tackle; Legend Boats; Skeeter Products Inc.; Retrotec; Purefishing (Berkley/Abu Garcia); All Pro Rods; Texas Toyota Bass Classic; Wal-Mart; Target; and Chick-Fil-A.
Take A Soldier Fishing is a department of the Combat Warrior Crisis Network, a ministry operating under the group exemption of Chaplain Fellowship Ministries International Inc., a non-profit public charity.