Stars and stripers: Disabled vets get day of fishing

Seacoast Online
by Alex LaCasse

Jun 21, 2017 at 6:26 PM  NEW CASTLE — Retired U.S. Marine Cpl. Paul Pratt served his country valiantly during the first Gulf War but roughly four years after he left the armed services he began to develop a neurological disorder after being exposed to environmental toxins during the war that weakened bones in his legs, causing them to continually break, and temporarily cost him the ability to walk.

“I have no feeling from the waist down, and when it started getting worse I didn’t realize I was breaking bones in my feet and my ankles. I broke my foot several times while I was working at my job at Home Depot,” said Pratt of Rochester, who served eight years in the Marines. “When I was first diagnosed, I was in a wheelchair for three years, but I just kept pushing and pushing through rehabilitation so I can now walk again but I have to wear special braces on my legs.”

On Wednesday morning, Pratt and 23 fellow disabled veterans were treated to a day of striped bass fishing courtesy of the Little Harbour Charitable Foundation and Northeast Passage as a token of appreciation for the personal sacrifices they have made during their time in the military.

“I think it’s time we say thank you to all of the veterans and we wanted to do this as a small way to do just that,” said LHCF President Paul Halloway. “They went over there to protect us, so it’s the least we can do to support them now. This is our first year doing this so we’re starting small but hopefully next year we can make this a bigger event. ”

The event was organized by LHCF board member Ritchie White, who recruited six of his friends who own their own boats to treat the group of warriors to a day on the water to relax and fish.

“I just said, ‘I’m an avid fisherman with a bunch of friends,’ so we got together as a group of captains and said this would be a great thing to do to show our appreciation to our veterans,” White said. “Every captain I called was an immediate, ‘yes.’ In fact, I had to turn some boats away because we wanted this to be a trial of sorts but we’re hoping to expand this next year. We’re lucky to have a beautiful day and we get to spend it with a group of veterans, so it couldn’t be any better.”

White said he connected last fall with Northeast Passage, the nonprofit that operates out of the University of New Hampshire’s College of Health and Human Services, which works to provide recreational opportunities to individuals with disabilities, which includes veterans. Associate Director Dave Lee said he and his staff will take people to activities such as archery and mountain biking, among others. After he made contact with White, Lee said they decided to try a pilot program to take a group of veterans fishing and he and White hope to turn the fishing excursion into an annual event for veterans.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to get veterans out on the water to do something a lot of them have shown interest in because this is the local fishing scene right here,” Lee said. “We want to get them out of their houses and do something social and striper fishing is awesome and we couldn’t ask for a better day to be doing this.”

For veterans like Wayne Ross, of Scituate, Massachusetts, a simple event like a day fishing to connect with other veterans reminds them there is nothing too small anyone can do to show their appreciation to veterans. Ross served four years as an officer in the Air Force and later became a quadriplegic as a result of an accident after his stint in the military.

“The biggest thing for me are the people; the people who help us out and who donate their time and we get a chance to see old friends and make new ones and that’s always fun,” said Ross, who is president of the New England chapter for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “These guys treated us like kings. Six people effortlessly loaded me on and off boat and they treated us to breakfast and lunch and gave us a hat and a T-shirt when we got back.”

Boat captain John Habig of Rye was honored to be able offer a gesture of thanks to the veterans who sacrificed so much to keep America safe. “Today is all about giving our respect to the veterans, and we have a beautiful day to do this,” Habig said. “Anything and everything that we possibly do for these heroes. We now owe them our respect.”