AUSTIN — Fifteen veterans who are disabled from their military service spent a few days fly fishing here last week, as part of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
The trip serves military personnel who have been wounded, injured or disabled. It is designed to aid their physical and emotional recovery through fly fishing and fly tying.
Because of donations from local individuals and businessess, PHWFF can provide their guests with food, lodging, fly tying tools and materials for free. The God’s Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted its annual PHWFF at Moore’s Run Fish and Game Preserve; all the veterans who attended were from Pennsylvania or New York.
Cathy Magarigal and her husband Roy are the owners of Moore’s Run Fish and Game Preserve. Cathy said she heard about PHWFF through a small news segment. Roy is in Trout Unlimited, so together they decided to host it. Cathy said it’s easy for them, because there’s wide community support. She hopes to continue hosting it in years to come.
Many of the veterans there said it was life-changing and appreciated everything the community did for them.
Tom Curtis, a Navy veteran of Gasport, N.Y., participated in PHWFF for his third year. He said this program is better than group clinic therapy.
“I know two (veterans) personally who were suicidal before and aren’t anymore because of this program,” Curtis said.
He said it’s a fun time even if they don’t catch any fish, though he had caught a good number of fish during his time here.
His helper, Craig H., said it’s an awesome program that helps vets get out of their box and show them they’re appreciated. He said a lot of the helpers are also vets, so they can relate to what they’re going through.
One of the other components to PHWFF is a 40-mile motorcade/escort through Potter County. Veterans from local American Legions and VFWs participate. People line the streets and wave American flags as the motorcade makes its way through towns.
Public opinion on veterans has drastically changed since Curtis left the Navy. Six years ago was the first time someone thanked him for his service, he said. The escort was a teary-eyed moment for him; it showed him and other veterans that a lot of people appreciate what they did.
Larry Tierney, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., has participated in PHWFF for four years. His favorite part is spending time with vets and talking to them; he said it’s easier to talk to vets than it is to talk to someone else.
Four years ago was his first fly fishing experience and he said it was great; it’s a lot of work with a tiny rod.
“My helper is great at teaching; he never gets mad, no matter how many trees I catch,” Tierney said.
He also appreciated the motorcade.
“That is unbelievable. I’ve never seen or heard about that happening in New York,” Tierney said. He said seeing people waving at them and getting to shake hands with young students got him really pumped up.
Tierney and several other participants and helpers all said they appreciated it all, but their favorite part was when Hannah Taylor, a junior at Coudersport, sang the National Anthem. There wasn’t a dry eye at the preserve by the time she finished.
David Bollman, PHWFF regional coordinator for northern New York State, said it’s great to see the vets come together and forget about their problems for a few days.
“It’s a healing process for them,” Bollman said.
Another helper, Carl Sprouse, of Coudersport, echoed those thoughts.
“It’s hard to focus on anything else if you’re fishing,” he said. Sprouse teaches a fly fishing class at PHWFF. He said it’s great to hear the stories and see the smiles on the vet’s faces.
He wants to see more people support the vets. He said a lot are still in treatment from something that happened so long ago.
“They deserve recognition and respect,” Sprouse said. “They made a big sacrifice. Some did it unwillingly, but they still did it.”
Tom “Doc” Tierney of Niagara Falls, N.Y. was a medic in Vietnam. He said he didn’t say much about his time serving for about 40 years, until he went to his first Army reunion.
“That turned my life around,” he said. After that, he participated in PHWFF and that improved his life even more. He now stays in touch with many of the vets he meets here and becomes good friends with them.
During the closing ceremony, each veteran received a few goodies, including a quilt from the Oswayo Valley Senior Center, a tie guide, a T-shirt and a bag.
Bill and Tina Franklin, of Coudersport, were recognized for their donation in honor of Wilbur “Bud” Franklin, and their son, Specialist Michael W. Franklin, who was killed in Iraq in 2005. He was 22 years old.
Dr. Ryan was also recognized for his 40 years with God’s Country Trout Unlimited. The chapter came together and bought him a top-of-the-line rod and reel.