STRAWBERRY RESERVOIR – It was a flotilla of fishing boats on Saturday morning where over 70 volunteers, most of them veterans, docked at the Strawberry Reservoir Soldier Creek Marina while nearly 100 disabled veterans waited to board the boats for the day of fishing last Saturday morning for the Utah Disabled Veteran Fishing event.
The event began a few years ago as a way for veterans to serve veterans, and give those with disabilities an opportunity to do something they may not normally be able to do, according to Todd Hall, director of the Utah Disabled Veterans Fishing Foundation.
“We see a gamut of service-oriented disabilities, and many who may not be able to go fishing on their own, so this provides them with recreational therapy,” Hall said. “Ninety percent of the volunteers are veterans, so when people talk about veterans helping each other, this is one of those times because they are the only people who really understand.”
Justin Smith, of Ogden, attended the event, having broken his back and neck while serving in the Marine Corps for eight years during the Persian Gulf War. Smith has endured permanent nerve damage for the last 30 years that causes him to lose the use of his right leg and both arms at times.
Fishing with fellow veterans was a memorable experience for Smith. “I have problems articulating my fingers, so my boat guide was right there helping me set up my pole, and I was able to do a lot of things I wouldn’t normally be able to do, and as a result, I caught four fish, including a 20-inch rainbow trout,” Smith said with a hint of pride in his voice.
Hall became involved in putting the event together because of his experience serving in the navy, also during the Persian Gulf War. “It is very satisfying to be able to help out folks who understand where we are coming from and may be a little less fortunate than a lot of others are,” Hall said. “It is one of the only jobs in the world where it is expected that you put your life and limb on the line, which is why you see veterans helping veterans here because it generates a brotherhood.”
When James Williams of Sandy heard about the event this year, he thought, “They really do that for veterans?” When he arrived at Strawberry Reservoir early Saturday morning, he was blown away. Williams said he felt like a king for a day, being treated to a day of fishing, and then receiving a brand new fishing pole and tackle box.
“It’s kind of reverent to see all of us old guys, some of them busted up, but just good-natured people that you respect and honor because they answered the call and took time out of their lives to serve or stood up and served in the war zone,” Williams said. “We were lavished, with the volunteers having spent a lot of money getting their boat up there and the gas to run the boats for us. It was hard to accept that goodness, but it was an incredible experience.”
Trevor Earl, Hill AFB coordinator and sponsor, was one of the many volunteers who brought up a boat for the disabled veterans fishing event, but didn’t see it as a sacrifice. “When you see veterans with missing limbs and scars from war, it’s easy to see who truly sacrificed to be part of that event. This is an honor and a blessing that I plan on being a part of for the rest of my days,” Earl said.
One unique part of the event for Smith was being able to chat with people who have had similar experiences. “Sometimes the things we’ve been through, even many years ago, still weigh upon you, and it’s really nice for us to get together and be comfortable talking about things that we don’ t normally talk about with other people,” Smith said. “There is a special bond between veterans that is unlike any other.”
Williams agreed, saying, “Being up there, even if you didn’t catch a lot of fish, just the scenery is gorgeous, and good therapy for us, getting out of the valley and the smog.”