The following review was contributed by Marilyn Rogan,
PHWFF Middle Tennessee volunteer and event participant.
The Second Annual “Fish with a Hero” event, September 21-25, 2015, sponsored by the community of Marathon, Florida and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing., was greatly anticipated by the veterans from Tennessee and north Alabama. The word was out from those who attended last year’s event that this is something you definitely don’t want to miss. Most all participants had never been out to sea to catch fish, which made this an even more special trip.
During the past year Larry Kendzior, (veteran, Marathon resident, recreational angler and supporter of PHWFF) had been working hard to raise the funds needed to bring the33 veterans and 9 volunteers to the Florida Keys to fish for two days. He spent many hours making the arrangements for lodging, food, and Sea Captains. On the PHWFF side, a grant was obtained from Middle Tennessee Electric Co-Op that paid for the transportation.
Larry Kendzior, Trip host and organizer
Each of the 17 programs in the TN Valley Region chose veterans that had not been on last year’s trip to participate this year. Everyone was very excited about going regardless of how hard it would be for them to make the 18 hour bus trip to Marathon, FL. Many of the veterans have severe physical handicaps making sitting long hours very difficult. As well as PTSD, which being confined in a small space with a lot of people adds to their stress. However, all were very excited and determined to make the trip.
The chatter increased as we picked up each group of veterans, first in Brentwood, Tn for those participants who came from west Tennessee, north Alabama, Clarksville and Nashville. Then to our second stop for Murfreesboro, TN. A few hours later we were in Ringgold, GA picking up the east Tennessee groups.
One of the volunteers had made ham biscuits with peach jam for the trip and a taste of crab dip to get them in the fishing mood. As they pulled out their brown bag dinners, everyone started introducing themselves to their “bus buddy”. This is as therapeutic as the fishing, sharing part of your life with someone who has been there and really understands your feelings. To be able to open up and talk about the dark side, relieves and relaxes veterans who have PTSD.
The people in Marathon and Pigeon Key, Florida are wonderful. The twenty Sea Captains and crew that donated their Charter vessels for two days to take the veterans fishing, can’t be thanked enough. The local restaurants that donated the food and Pigeon Key Foundation for the lodging are just a few who make this trip possible.
We arrived in Key Largo, Florida around noon on Tuesday, September 22nd to be greeted by the Monroe Marauders (an antique military vehicle group) with a “Welcome to Marathon” sign and we were escorted to the Coast Guard station. Larry Kendzior , from Marathon along with Bill Coyne and Tommy Hogan, volunteers with PHWFF from Tennessee, greeted the group and introduced the Commander of the Coast Guard station. He talked about the facility and divided us into groups for a tour. After light refreshments and water we arrived at the ferry dock to board ferries for the island of Pigeon Key.
Tired and excited we arrived, got settled into our accommodations and headed to the dinner table. The meal was delicious and everyone was talking about the next day’s fishing. We had a short orientation to introduce everyone to Larry, the crew at Pigeon Key and to give out buffs and shirts. The sun is very strong and we wanted everyone protected with long sleeve shirts, sunscreen and water. As soon as the meal and meeting was over the dock was full of fishermen. Lines were cast in the hopes of getting the biggest catch of the trip early.
On the second day, everyone arose to the smell of fresh coffee and in anticipation of a full day at sea. Breakfast was served, and lunches were made for the fishing trip. As hard as it was to walk and stand, feet and legs swollen from the bus ride, you heard no complaints. All were ready to fish.
As the Sea Captains arrived and boats were assigned, the chatter was high. We helped each other board the boat for a full day of fishing. And fish we did, everyone returned with big catches to be shared for the evening meal, which was delicious. Everyone relaxed, shared their fishing experience and enjoyed a beautiful sunset, what could be more perfect than this?
The next day was a repeat of the first, this time it seems we were up earlier and more excited than ever to get out to sea. Once you have landed a few fish, it isn’t hard not to want to repeat that experience. Lunches were packed and boats assigned and off we went to enjoy the beautiful waters and fish.
The second day fishing stories were bigger and better than the day before. We caught 400 lbs of fish to bring home and enjoy. The fish were fileted by our Sea Captains and packed on ice for the journey home.
That night’s meal was outstanding; the steaks were great and the lobster outstanding. What an ending to a wonderful trip. Everyone hated to leave the island, but it was time to head back home. We thanked everyone at Pigeon Key, Larry and our volunteers, for a great time.
But what I noticed the most as a volunteer was the change in attitude by most who attended. They were more outgoing, not holding so much inside. They were relaxed, happy and really enjoying themselves. As for me, I realized from talking with them, it is not easy to start your life over after war. Fighting the physical challenges , nightmares, coping in a new environment, putting your life back together after war is the hard part.
If we can share a part of our lives so that our veterans might go on with theirs knowing someone cares. That’s what it is all about caring; and letting them know it. To all who made this fishing trip possible – thanks for the memories!