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· I don't Exaggerate I just rememeber BIG!
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Below is an article written by John Lopez that appeared in Sunday July 23 Houston Chronicle. It outlines what and why the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund has been chosen as a beneficiary for the 1st Annual Msgt. J. Gonzales (ret.) Memorial In-Shore Fishing Tournament that has been rescheduled to be held in Sargent on Saturday August 18th. The soldiers came on July the 21 but the tournament due to weather had to be rescheduled. Despite the set back the soldiers were still taken care of for the entire weekend.

After war's horror, soldiers go fishing for some normalcy
Injured soldiers who have returned from Iraq find the outings organized by Hunts for Heroes on Matagorda Bay help in their recovery

SARGENT - These are fish stories, the kind that make you wish they weren't true.

Yet with every story and every cast, you get the feeling things are getting one step closer to a happy ending.

The stories are told by young men whose eyes occasionally stare to the distance as they try to piece together the hows and whys of war injuries that brought them home on hospital beds, burned, debilitated.

And they are stories of how they wound up here as casualties of the war in Iraq taking a respite from treatment and recovery at San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center. They are casting lines and sitting dockside at Caney Creek near East Matagorda Bay with fishing guides and members of the Hunts for Heroes organization.

They are at once sad and inspiring stories, dusted with equal parts regret, hope and unnatural wisdom and perspective, considering the youthful faces.

There's B.J. Sprenger, 22, the former football and baseball star from Sleepy Eye, Minn.

He's talking about the redfish he caught one night earlier and explaining his new tattoo the image of flames crawling up his right ankle and calf.

The tattoo is a kind of personal thumbing of the nose at Iraqi insurgents - a "you-missed-a-spot" testament to perseverance.

Sprenger's lower right leg, in fact, was one of the few places on his body not hit with shrapnel or burned when the armored vehicle in which he was riding detonated a roadside bomb outside of Baghdad. Sprenger suffered severe burns on his arms, legs, face and in his lungs.

"The bomb went right underneath the motor and straight up," said Sprenger, who served with the 34th Red Bull Army National Guard Infantry Division. "All I remember is getting on the helicopter and bits and pieces of a plane ride to Germany."

Sprenger's burns were so severe that when he arrived at BAMC in San Antonio, his mother could kiss him only on one small part of one of his arms.

Yet on Saturday morning, there was Sprenger wearing protective sleeves on his arms and legs, bopping across East Matagorda Bay, chasing down trout and redfish with area guides such as Hank Sanderfer and Larry Cabness.

There he was trading barbs with fellow casualties, sipping cold beer, laughing and fishing some more at the dock, because this is the kind of rehab that clears the mind and normalizes many distraught young lives.

There's James West from Great Falls, Mont., sitting at a picnic table in the shade near the dock, marveling at how something so simple can mean so much.

West, a sergeant in the 187th Infantry, flirted with danger every day in Iraq while leading a company that drove tractor-trailers. Six times his vehicle had been hit by roadside bombs in two stints in Iraq, and he suffered concussions and minor injuries.

But on June 2, 2006, an electrical charge ignited a fire that blew the fuel tank of his tractor, leaving West with burns on 40 percent of his body, including third-degree burns over 30 percent.

Last August, West went on one of the inaugural Hunts for Heroes fishing trips near Palacios. West remains highly sensitive to heat and sunlight. A year ago, he could hardly stand outside for more than five or 10 minutes, but he wanted to take part in the trip shortly after undergoing numerous skin graft procedures.

"When I first saw him (in 2006) walking across the lawn, I told my wife, 'My God, where are we going to take him fishing?' " said Billy Hodges, an El Campo businessman who heads the Hunts for Heroes organization. "His wounds were still leaking. I was thinking, 'What are we going to do? The saltwater's going to get it infected.' "

Another guide, Jerry Hensley, asked to take West and West's wife, Megan, alone on the trip. Hensley anchored in the shade under the causeway bridge at Port Lavaca.

West could not hold the rod with his right hand, so he tucked the rod under his right arm and turned the reel upside down so he could reel backward with his left hand. When a fish struck, he leaned backward to set the hook.

By the end of that trip, West and his wife caught more trout than any other boating party, helping win a trophy purchased for a fishing contest between West's Army buddies and Marines on the trip.

"My whole day is the house and the hospital," said West, who still wears protective gloves on both hands and sleeves on both arms and legs. "To be able to do this means the world. Just to be able to get out here and say, 'Yeah, I did something. I caught some fish.'

"When you're stuck in the hospital for two years, you don't see guys like the Hunts for Heroes people, regular guys, that care this much. If it wasn't for that fishing trip last year, I guarantee you I wouldn't be as far along as I am now."

The veterans involved in the weekend's trip say they continually find themselves fighting depression or wondering how things could be different.

"You sit there and go from fighting a war to not being able to do a darn thing on your own," West said. "I couldn't feed myself. I couldn't bathe myself. I couldn't do anything. Now I go out there and think, 'Well, I can't do any of that, but I can catch a darn fish.' "

There's Caleb Burdess - who grew up fishing and hunting in Benton, Ark. - trying to explain how something so simple and serene soothes more than just the physical pain.

Burdess' vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb that sent the truck airborne, knocking his head into the armored roof, injuring four discs in his back and leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. He fights short-term memory loss and other brain injury symptoms such as nightmares, involuntary spasms and getting startled easily.

"You get frustrated and angry, because you're confused," Burdess said. "But going fishing, doing things like this, it makes a difference. It's frustrating because people talk about the war. Well, if you don't support the war, support the soldiers.

"People say, 'I don't support Bush.' I say, I don't care. These are your nieces, nephews, brothers, cousins. These are soldiers, and they're Americans. That's what (Hunts for Heroes) helps. They always say they're thanking us. But we really appreciate them, to see somebody who never looks at politics, just helping us out."

Randy Bagwell, a company leader in the 167th Infantry, had one of the war's most difficult jobs. His team drove scout trucks 2,000 meters ahead of Army convoys to search for roadside bombs and other potential problems.

Unlike many victims of attacks, Bagwell, who counts the Astros among his favorite teams after following Jeff Bagwell's career, has vivid memories of the explosion. He remembers every detail, from the window in front of him flexing before blowing, to the several softball-sized holes blown through the bottom of the vehicle, turning him into a "shrapnel sponge."

"I can see the fire flashing in front of my eyes, everything going bright and like somebody taking a sledgehammer and smashing me on the side of the head," said Bagwell, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and shrapnel injuries in both legs, as well as severe nerve damage in his right arm. "I saw the bomb before we hit it, but it was too late. I fixed my eyes on it and all I had time to say was, 'Oh' "

When Bagwell first began rehabbing at Brooke, he couldn't walk. On Saturday and Sunday, there were more memories whose every detail these fallen heroes never will forget.

Roseate spoonbills and gray pelicans flying overhead. Army buddies laughing and kidding. Ripples of water on East Matagorda Bay lapping against the side of the boat.

And a different kind of captain's voice shouting. Fish on.

Listen to John P. Lopez from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays on 790 AM. [email protected]

I spent some time with these fine young men that were there that weekend and was taken back with their patriotism and positive outlook despite the physical and mental difficulties that they are burden with.

My wife Lisa and I have decided to take a more active role and hereby ask that ya'll do the same!

We have donated the use of my home in Sargent to the soldiers that will be coming for this tournament on the 18th.

We also have also donated & arranged a special dinner (Amberjack) for the soldiers to be prepared by a Chef Andy who also a member of 2cool who has donated his time to do the honors on Friday the 17th.

Here is a link to the 2cool thread with all the info and particulars


Now who on 2cool is going to make it!!!


(Sometimes you just have to ask yourself "What good have I done lately")
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