Wounded Warriors visit Sequim VFW

Three recently wounded soldiers who served in the Middle East made a stop at VFW Post 4760 for dinner and conversation on May 28.

They are part of the Wounded Veterans Fishing Program, where soldiers go fishing for a few days to talk and relax.

Danny Gabriel, a wounded Army veteran, started the Wounded Veterans Fishing Program to help injured past and present soldiers during their time of recovery.

Gabriel befriended his son-in-laws' friend who had just returned from the Middle East. The young man was feeling guilty because a bomb killed some of his patrol and he was contemplating suicide.

"I wanted to help him and I thought (the fishing program) could help him begin to overcome his pain," Gabriel said.

He has brought soldiers onto the peninsula every other weekend since beginning the fishing trips in January.

The recent trip was to Neah Bay.

Participants came from Fort Lewis' Warrior Transition Battalion, an outpatient service for injured soldiers.

"I hang out on the base and help spread the word. A lot of these guys just need someone to talk to," Gabriel said.

Soldier participants were Michael Torres, Corey Thomas and Jonathon Gay. Torres invited his father-in-law Bob Bearden, and Gay brought his son Austin.

Soldiers are invited to bring one family member or friend on the fishing trip.

"They can bring anybody to help with the healing process. They can't do it on their own," Gabriel said.

Torres, who was injured in 2006 from an explosion during his first tour, said the program helps him with the healing.

"It was relaxing on the water," he said.

"It was a lot of fun. I've gone out with Danny five or six times now," Thomas said.

Gabriel encourages soldiers to make repeat trips.

"The healing doesn't happen in just a few hours. It can take awhile," Gabriel said.

Doug Duval, human resource officer for the Warrior Transition Battalion, and Ken Wojczynski, with Olympia VFW Post 318, also participated.

The Olympia VFW shares its nonprofit status with the fishing program.

"We just know we need to support these guys anyway we can," Wojczynski said.

"We are soliciting a lot of places for donations to help (the program) along."

The group caught more than 160 fish, mostly rock fish and lingcod.

Gabriel said he has offered the program idea to the national Wounded Warriors program to expand. They have shown an interest but budget restraints have kept them from sending a representative to oversee the program, he said.

Sequim VFW Senior Vice Commander Bob Woeck cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and pulled pork for the fishing group.

"We're here for the veterans ... It's something we don't see very often, so we jump at the chance to do it," Woeck said.

The Sequim Ladies Auxiliary helped serve the food and made cookie and treat bags for the soldiers.

"It means so much to them for this meal regardless of how small it seems. They need more people to show them care and appreciation," said Herma Hooper, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary.

"I feel that we can show these warriors that they can still enjoy life with disabilities," Gabriel said.

"I am trying for 20-plus trips to Westport and additional trips to the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. To accomplish this, we need help with cash donations to keep the veterans fishing."

Matthew Nash can be reached at mnash@sequim

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