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Annual event is therapy for Wounded Warriors

More than 25 Army soldiers from Fort Gordon, all recovering from wounds they received in the war or some other mishap, enjoyed a fun filled day fishing in the ponds of Charlie and Trudy Lewis near Thomson last Saturday.

For the past several years, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis have been involved in the Wounded Warrior Project.

"We just enjoy having these soldiers and members of their families come out here and enjoy themselves by catching and eating some fish," said Mr. Lewis, a longtime businessman in Thomson. "It makes us feel real good to see these soldiers having such a good time. There's nothing like seeing a soldier get excited when catching a fish."

Like in past years, Tim Cox, co-founder of the event, welcomed soldiers as they got out of vehicles onto the Lewis property last Saturday morning.

"This is something I look very forward to every year," said Mr. Cox with a big smile.

Army Command Sgt. Major Thomas Clark of nearby Fort Gordon said fishing is good therapy for the wounded soldiers.

"It's fun to see them enjoying themselves so much," said Command Sgt. Maj. Clark during an interview with The McDuffie Mirror .

He also paid special recognition to Mr. and Mrs. Lewis for hosting the fishing event every year.

"I think they are truly a slice of the American pie," said Command Sgt. Maj. Clark. "It's obvious they love service members."

As for him, he said, "I'm just proud to be a small part of this."

One of the first soldiers to finish his fishing day with a bang was Sgt. First Class Edward Jackson, who was wounded in the Iraq War in 2007.

Sgt. Jackson held a large bass high in the air as he walked along side of a couple of large ponds.

"I'm going to get this fish cleaned and eat him," said Sgt. Jackson with a big chuckle.

Other soldiers there shared his sentiments.

One of them was a soldier's son, 9-year-old Zachary Strong, of Celina, TN.

Zachary caught a nice bass which weighed about 3 pounds on one of his last cast of the day. The youngster didn't want just anybody's help getting the hook out of the mouth of his fish.

Instead, he wanted the help of his father, Staff Sgt. Michael Keith Strong, an Apache helicopter mechanic.

Sgt. Strong, who was fishing in another pond at the time, had to be brought to his son's side via a golf car. But he didn't mind one little bit.

In fact, he said he relished the opportunity to help his son.

"He had a blast fishing a half day or so,' said Sgt. Strong of his son. "This is something he'll never forget."

Sgt. Strong explained that he, Zachary and his older son, Taylor, 11, "are country boys. We love to hunt and fish."

Mr. Lewis watched as Sgt. Strong helped Zachary.

"That was awesome," exclaimed Mr. Lewis.

Spc. Jonathan Salay, of Jasper, Ga., who was injured in Afghanistan in October, didn't catch a fish until his last cast of the day.

"I'd been trying all day to catch a fish," said Spc. Salay, noting his battle buddy, Spc. Dela Cruz, of St. Petersburg, Fla., had caught several fish while sitting beside him.

Finally, it was Spc. Salay's turn.

Using a borrowed rod and reel from Sgt. First Class Roy Holmes, of Walls, Ms., Spc. Salay cast out one more time.

"Hey, I've got a fish," remarked the soldier two or three minutes later. "Finally, I caught a fish."

Sgt. Holmes said he was proud that Spc. Salay caught a fish.

As for the experience that he had fishing in the Lewis ponds, Sgt. Holmes, who is preparing to retire after 30 years in the Army, said, "It just rocks my world. It's so peaceful out here fishing. This is something that just doesn't last long enough."

Soldiers enjoyed eating fish and delicious hush puppies afterwards.

The fish were cooked by Dave and Millie Pitstick, while the hush puppies were prepared by Ed and Teresa Toille.

Web posted on Thursday, May 13, 2010

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