Good idea spurs invite for soldiers
On Monday, seven men and women, wounded in the service of their country and bound by their love of fishing, will arrive on Martha's Vineyard where they will be treated to five days of Island hospitality, inspired by gratitude for their military service and their sacrifice.
The group will be treated to a stay in the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark, fishing trips with Menemsha charter captains and a clambake on Menemsha Beach, as well as a showing of the signature Martha's Vineyard fish movie, "Jaws."
The visit reflects the Martha's Vineyard way of doing things: energetic personalities coupled to a good idea that spreads through the community by word of mouth and taps neighborly generosity, all helped along by attitudes that eschew formalities in favor of getting things done.
The idea to invite soldiers to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of fishing in the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby sprang from Jack Nixon, an eight-year-old Chilmark seasonal resident who loves to fish. His father and mother, Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Home Port Restaurant, the Beach Plum Inn, and the Menemsha Inn in Chilmark, took it from there.
The story began three weeks ago during family reading time at the Nixon house. The book was "The Big One," David Kinney's entertaining tale of the annual Bass and Bluefish Derby published this spring.
Bob Nixon happened to put the book down next to a newspaper photo essay about the challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Jack looked at the book and the photos and told his dad, "I wish some of them could fish the Derby."
The next day, Mr. Nixon called Doriana Klumick, Beach Plum assistant manager and asked her to see if there was any interest in the community. She contacted Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a nonprofit group that assists military personnel who have been wounded, injured, or disabled with their physical and emotional recovery, by introducing or rebuilding the skills of fly fishing and fly tying.
Time appeared to be short. Maybe it would have been best to shoot for next year.
But Mr. Nixon ran into Joe El Deiry, a member of the Derby committee, to whom he described the idea. The committee was meeting the next night.
In Menemsha, one person spoke to another person. Charter fishermen spoke to one another.
The answer to the question of whether there was any community interest was a resounding, "Yes." And nobody wanted to wait until next year. The result was the creation of "The Beach Plum Inn American Heroes Saltwater Challenge."
On Monday, six retired men and women from the Togus Veterans Administration Hospital in Augusta, Maine, and one active duty Army man from Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland will arrive on Martha's Vineyard and enjoy dinner at the elegant Beach Plum Inn with members of the Derby committee and volunteer organizers.
A group of five Menemsha-based charter captains have volunteered to take the veterans out Tuesday morning and again Wednesday afternoon. Captain Scott McDowell, one of those who volunteered, said he is happy to be a part of an effort meant to show appreciation for the sacrifices of men and women in uniform. "Sara Nixon called, and I said, count me in," he said.
Others have stepped up. The Menemsha Galley will provide lunches for the Tuesday afternoon fishing trip. On Tuesday night, Larsen's Fish Market will host a beach clambake. MV Island Tours and Your Taxi will assist with transportation.
The Derby committee is donating free registrations to those fishermen able to fish within the Derby rules of landing a fish unaided. The committee has also created a special plaque for those fishermen who cannot fish without assistance.
Derby chairman Greg Skomal said that when the idea was presented to help host a group of veterans the Derby members were extremely supportive. He said the committee is taking it slow and wants to do its best to make the veterans feel a part of the tournament.
"I certainly hope these guys weigh in a fish," Mr. Skomal said.
Before they leave Thursday, the service men and women will enjoy breakfast at the Beach Plum Inn with "Big One" author David Kinney, who will present each member of the group with a signed copy of his book.
Healing Waters, the fishing group coordinating the visit, began more than four years ago. Retired Navy Capt. Ed Nicholson, a fisherman and hunter, decided that fly fishing could help veterans in their recovery. It now has chapters across the country.
"The goal is simple," Mr. Nicholson said in an earlier interview. "You have a guy who lost a leg, he's in physical therapy, we get him out there wading a stream, he gets a boost. Or a guy who lost an arm, we start him casting, he has a chance to use his new arm and actually do something that's enjoyable."
Dr. Tamar Martin-Franklin, project coordinator of Veteran Anglers of New York, the local chapter of the Healing Waters, and her husband will accompany the group to the Vineyard. Ms. Martin-Franklin, a counseling psychologist with a specialization in rehabilitation and neuropsychology, told The Martha's Vineyard Times yesterday that she became involved with the group after reading about it in a magazine.
Ms. Martin-Franklin said it seemed like a good way to combine her professional life and love of fishing. Describing the people she has met and worked with in the program, she said the entire experience has been professionally and personally rewarding.
Stanley Munson is looking forward to his first fishing trip to Martha's Vineyard. He is no novice. "Fishing is what I do best," he said in a telephone conversation Tuesday evening from his home in Belfast, Maine. "I think I was born with a fishing pole in my hand."
Mr. Munson was an Army helicopter mechanic. A severe motor vehicle accident in December 1980 left him with multiple injuries and a long road to recovery. "A lot of operations and a lot of TLC got me back on my feet," he said.
Mr. Munson picked up fly fishing after he lost his sight. He was introduced to Healing Waters through the efforts of Theresa Olsen, a VA medical center recreational therapist, who helped begin a Healing Waters chapter in Maine with Trout Unlimited.
A self-described workaholic, Mr. Munson said that after his injury he wanted to keep working but encountered many roadblocks. "Recreation, literally, gave me my life back," he said. "Knowing what it did for me, I can only imagine what it has done for the other veterans in the area that have picked this up in the same aspect. I think we are all in the same boat, and it has given us a focus and something to look forward to."
Mr. Munson said he has fished for striped bass but never caught one. Assured that his luck was about to change, Mr. Munson said, "Sounds like a good plan to me."
For more information or to donate to the saltwater challenge, call Doriana Klumick at 508-645-2521.