Welcoming wounded warriors to the water

Veterans seek healing through fishing in Port Angeles and Sekiu

Veterans seek healing through fishing

by ALANA LINDEROTH

Sequim Gazette

Army soldiers in search of peace and healing recently made an annual trip to the Olympic Peninsula.

For three years soldiers from all over, but living at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Battalion in Tacoma, travel to Sequim in pursuit of the tranquility and fishing opportunities found within the saline waters surrounding Port Angeles west to Sekiu.

In mid-August, a group of about 20 veterans, including family members, participated in the Wounded Warrior program and fishing trip to Sekiu.

Making a patriotic arrival, motorcyclists with the American Legion Riders escorted the group into Port Angeles.

“It’s amazing how much something like this can help them relax,” Gerald Rettela, veteran and president of the Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 310, said.

“It brings a lot of joy to their lives at an important time.”

Already, Rettela is busy readying for the second group of wounded warriors that will travel up and down the Strait of Juan de Fuca in search of fish from Sept. 10-14.

Together, members of the KWVA, Clallam Bay Sekiu Lions Club and Elks Naval Lodge 353 collaborate to host veterans from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in hopes of fostering the Warrior Transition Battalion mission to “provide command and control, primary care and case management for soldiers in transition, establish the conditions for their healing and promote their timely return to the force or transition to civilian life.”

Korean War veteran Charles (Chuck) Gagnon and Rettela decided to combine their service backgrounds and organize a local Wounded Warriors Project program where recovering soldiers could come to the area and fish, talk, relax and heal.

“What’s unique about this event, is they’re (veterans) encouraged to bring their family,” Rettela said.

On the last trip to Sekiu, the youngest participant was only 6 months old.

The program provides soldiers with a unique platform to share experiences, be in a calm environment and learn to fish. For some it’s their first time fishing.

“It’s an individual experience,” Rettela said. “You’ll find some men or women that are totally silent at the beginning of the trip really start to open up near the end.”

To make the event a reality, local skippers volunteer their time and various community donors and sponsors contribute to help cover the costs of fishing licenses, boat fuel, transportation to and from Madigan Veterans Hospital and lodging for the visiting veterans.

Also, Rettela noted, the tribes within the area have continued to be supportive and welcoming. The Makah Tribe hosted a traditional salmon dinner for the soldiers visiting Sekiu and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is preparing a similar event for the upcoming group.

Interacting with the different tribes “exposes people that aren’t familiar with the Olympic Peninsula to an important aspect of the area’s history and culture,” Rettela said.

“It’s a very unique event,” he said.

A desire to uphold his own pledge to serve his country drives Rettela to stay involved with military programs, including Wounded Warriors Project.

“I’ve always had the philosophy that you honor the dead by serving the living,” he said.

From more information on the program or to become a sponsor or make a donation, contact the Naval Elks Lodge 353 at 457-3355.

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.