Walleyes for Wounded Heroes hosts free fishing event at Camp Perry

Jun 11, 2024 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Military veterans, from left, Chris Short, Adam Prince and Chad Rozanski were among the 50 heroes who attended Walleyes for Wounded Heroes at Camp Perry on June 5 to 8. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Those who live near Lake Erie know the soothing power of its waters. Those who have turned to her for comfort in the wake of trauma know healing comes in the rocking of her waves. For the past dozen years, a group of volunteers has been helping connect the country’s wounded heroes to Lake Erie’s balm.

Walleyes for Wounded Heroes (W4WH), which was founded in 2012, provides free group fishing excursions for current or former members of the Armed Forces, law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders who have been wounded during combat operations or in the line of duty.

On June 5 to 8, W4WH hosted 50 heroes from 17 states at the Camp Perry Lodging & Conference Center for a few days of fishing and much-deserved recognition. Among them were Army veterans Chris Short, Adam Prince and Chad Rozanski. Short lost a leg serving in southern Afghanistan in 2005, and Rozanski lost both legs serving in support of the Iraqi Freedom Campaign in 2002. All three men were grateful for the opportunity to fish with a professional charter captain on Lake Erie.

Capt. 03 and Intelligence Officer Maria Garrett of Missouri attended the Walleyes for Wounded Heroes fishing event. Garrett is the first female aide-de-camp for the Missouri Adjutant General. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“When you are out on the boat, there is nothing else you can think about other than where you are in the moment,” Rozanski said. “The back pain and the trauma melt away.”

That is the purpose of W4WH’s fishing trips.

“Our mission statement talks about the healing waters of Lake Erie, and we know how true that is,” said W4WH Vice President and Vietnam Veteran Chip Hall. “It’s heartbreaking to me to see these young kids who are wounded. You see the cost of war.”

Although there is no way to repay the heroes for their service, the W4WH events serve as a way to recognize their sacrifice. Everything, excluding transportation to the event, was provided for free, including lodging, meals and fishing on Lake Erie, which Prince described as “a pretty amazing resource.” Short was grateful for everything the heroes received.

“The lake is just part of it. It’s the whole package,” Short said. “Everyone is so nice.”

About 25 captains and 10 first mates volunteered for the event.

Chad Evans, an E4 in the Marine Corps, traveled all the way from Montana to spend three days fishing with Walleyes for Wounded Heroes. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“The boat captains donated all their time, gas, knowledge and charters,” Hall said.

Rob Eggleston, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a charter captain who donated his time and boat for eight W4WH events. He understands the healing power of the lake and wanted to share it with other veterans.

“Every single event goes the same way. You get in a boat with two or three strangers, and everyone is apprehensive at first,” Eggleston said. “Then the reels start to fly, and you realize you’re all dealing with the same thing. You talk about it, you joke about it, and by the end of the day, it’s like you’ve been friends for years.”

After dinner, which was served by Ottawa County Republican Women each night, the heroes were entertained by wounded Army veteran and comedian Bobby Henline.. In 2007, during his fourth tour in Iraq, his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb, killing the other four soldiers with him.

“Thirty-eight percent of my body was burned,” Henline said. “I was the only survivor.”

Henline not only survived the attack, but, in the following years, he survived the trauma by processing life with laughs.

“As a human, you have to laugh at what you go through,” he said.

Today, he uses comedy and motivational speaking to entertain and to encourage in comedy clubs, on television and overseas for troops. Henline won first place in the 2024 World Series of Comedy competition and will compete in Vegas in the fall. As he ate dinner at Camp Perry on June 6, he said he was looking forward to sharing his dark humor with a room full of veterans who will understand it.

“When I perform before civilian crowds, I have to slow down and ease them into it,” Henline said.

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