When a Facebook friend said something critical about Memorial Day, something along the lines that it was the first of three holidays that our country celebrates war, I had two thoughts. First, far-and-away the majority of my friends would not share that sentiment. Secondly, most of my friends would go out of their way to do something special to say thank you to a vet, like take them fishing or hunting.
Memorial Day is not a celebration of war, but is a celebration of the people who pay the ultimate price to serve our country. It’s also a time to remember and care for those who have been injured in their service to our nation. As many have learned, there’s a lot of healing that can come through hunting and fishing and time outdoors.
“I was part of a hunting delegation that went to Afghanistan last year,” shared Bill Miller, professional hunter and television host. “It was life-changing for me. My understanding grew for the work and specialized training the men and women go through. ‘Serving our country’ is not just a phrase to me, anymore. I have a much better understanding of the sacrifice, skill and commitment that it takes.”
Many hunting and fishing programs offer trips to veterans when they return. Some are locally focused and others are more national in scope. It often boils down to one person that decided to make a difference and created an opportunity. They wanted to say thank you.
One person can take someone out fishing in their boat for the day, or one person can plan a hunting trip for a veteran. When lots of “ones” do that, the entire industry looks organized as we embrace our veterans. Sometimes well-oiled machines spring up to facilitate putting people together. It always seems to start, though, with a passionate person or small group of people that step up to make a difference.
Ken Onion served five years with the Marines. From the Oahu Island in Hawaii, he is now involved helping veterans since 9/11. “The newscasts would gloss over the lives lost in Iraq. Didn’t seem like we were remembering them for keeping the terrorist activity away from the United States,” said Onion. “My brothers needed me. We can work and heal together, to provide a soft landing for those that continue to come home.”
Onion is in Alaska this week with a group of nine veterans. With them is probably one of the most famous hunters of all time, Jim Zumbo. These days, Zumbo volunteers almost all of his time afield to helping veterans. Often in and out of Walter Reed Hospital, he talks with wounded soldiers, hearing their stories. Sometimes he meets a guy or gal that longs to be afield again. With a loss of limb or other life-changing injury, the returning veteran can’t imagine hunting again. Then Jim steps in. “If I can help in a small way, it is my honor. To see the soldiers that have been hurt plan for a trip and a year or two later take their elk or their deer is very healing.” Zumbo donates his time primarily through Alaska’s Healing Hearts and Trinity Oaks Foundation.
Not all wounds are as evident as a missing leg, either. IEDs can tear off limbs, but war in all of its totality is ugly and leaves scars—many on the inside. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be overcome, but some newly-returning soldiers need help to merge back into society doing normal activities and reconnecting with family and friends.
So many ways to dial people together for either hunting or fishing with veterans. I’m sure there are dozens more that aren’t listed below–but this is a great start. Feel free to check them out, make a donation or offer to volunteer.
- Alaska’s Healing Hearts (or contact James Hastings, U.S. Army (ret) at 907.232.1527 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Trinity Oaks Foundation
- Hope for the Warriors
- Hunters Helping Soldiers
- Wounded Warriors in Action
- Wounded Heroes Hunting Camp
- Hunt for Vets
- Freedom Hunters
- Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures (for info or to donate contact Gary Goodenow, Miltary Tribute Hunts Coordinator at 248.894.6474 or email email@example.com)
- Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
- Wounded Veterans Fishing VFW Post 318 in Olympia, Washington
- Take a Soldier Fishing
- Veterans Appreciation Fishing Tournament, South Portland, Maine
Maybe there was a third thought after I read that Facebook post. Would I want want a Facebook “friend” that would say such a thing? Then I realized something very important. Almost all of the veterans would gladly let him say what he said. That’s what they fight for: a free society which includes the right and freedom to say your different-than-my-view thoughts. It’s just that freedom isn’t free. Thank you, vets, for paying the price.
K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.
First image courtesy Bill Miller, second image by Jim Zumbo