“It is the simple things,” said one soldier, “that make the biggest difference in someone else’s life.”
Fishing may be one of those. Kindness is another.
Some folks in Spring Grove, Virginia, have figured out how to offer both to impact war veterans.
Woo Daves, a fishing superstar, is the winner of the 2000 BassMaster’s Classic World Championship. A professional angler with numerous achievements to his name, Woo is also a man with a heart for people.
He organizes an annual charity fundraiser/fishing tournament, of which Freedom Alliance is a beneficiary. Organizations and individuals donate special items to be auctioned and raffled, including pieces of NASCAR memorabilia (the tournament is scheduled to coincide with the races in Richmond, Virginia).
In addition to the donations, Woo and his wife, Patty, invite Freedom Alliance to send service members to participate in the tournament, which takes place on the James and Chickahominy Rivers. Local fishermen volunteer to host the veterans on their boats.
From the early-morning breakfast and embarkation, to the bass weigh-in and auction later that day, the vets get to experience it all.
This year we selected nine—combat-wounded or disabled—servicemen and family members, for a total of 14.
We couldn’t do this if it weren’t for the goodness and hospitality of Robert and Jody Jones, who make available their lovely waterfront property to our troops during the tournament. The Millpond, as the Joneses’ residence is known, is a 300-plus-acre pond with a spacious cabin at the water’s edge.
The pond is stocked with large-mouth bass, as well as boats and fishing equipment, which provide a fun challenge for the military folk who come to visit. And, in the cabin, there are rooms for everyone.
Indeed, many a Freedom Alliance guest has stayed consecutive years at the Millpond and gotten to know the Jonses very well.
As it happens, John—a sergeant and forward observer who lost a leg during the war—first attended this fishing event six years ago, about the time Freedom Alliance found him recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. John has since married Robert and Jody’s daughter Amy!
Bradley, who was injured in an explosion while fighting overseas, also attended with John that first year.
“This is truly a life-changing event,” he said, “not only for those of us affected directly by the donations, but also for the entire community.”
He explained how all the local people get involved—some participate directly and others show up to cheer the rest on. The Daveses really know how to rally the supporters.
Bradley also reflected on the first time he met Woo. “This moment stands out to me every time I cast out,” he said.
Woo had asked Bradley if he’d done much fishing in the past. Bradley replied that he had more fingers on one hand than times he’d been fishing, because his father didn’t have the time to take him.
Then, Woo didn’t dig for details about Bradley’s injury. He simply asked, “Are you okay to stand up in the boat? Because if not, I have a seat you can use.”
These un-intrusive, compassionate questions impressed Bradley. He said that he knew right then that Woo cared more about his head and heart than his damaged body.
One of our new participants this year is a retired Marine gunnery sergeant named Chuck, who suffers from a brain injury. Having been somewhat isolated since his medical retirement from the Corps, he knew it was important that he get around some other servicemen.
“Getting out around others makes a huge difference to me,” he said. He was also happy to have met the Jones family, who he said “help me heal and give me more faith that there are still awesome people out there.”
Bradley so articulately expressed why this event and others offered through Freedom Alliance are valuable:
“They bring old friends from the hospital back together, they reinstall the motivation and the will power, and the therapeutic recreation is hands down the best thing possible for today’s generation of veterans.”
This was the 25th year that Woo Daves has been putting on this bass tournament to benefit charity. What an incredible legacy!
To Woo and Patty, Robert and Jody, all the fishing buddies who lent their time and boats, as well as the whole community around Spring Grove, Virginia: Freedom Alliance thanks you for caring enough to impact this generation of veterans, by the giving of donations and the provision of that most important therapeutic recreation.