Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Reeling for a good time
About three hours in to Mary Collins’s fishing experience, she is untired and ready for more. With more than 12 fishing poles cast off the charter boat, “The Office” and four fish in the boat, she was angling to snag a few more.
“Here fishy, fishy, fishy! One more! Let’s go!”
More than 100 Southeast Wisconsin Veterans, 40 boats and scores of volunteers ascended on Port Washington Marina early June 17 to participate in a day of fishing, camaraderie and a fish boil for the 42nd Annual Veterans Outing. The event was sponsored by veteran service organizations and the Port Washington Community.
Veteran Tom McQuaid started the Veterans outing more than 40 years ago. McQuaid, who was injured in a boating accident, was treated at Milwaukee VA following the accident. After his recovery and as a thank you, he invited two veterans in wheelchairs to fish on Lake Michigan.
Now he partners with numerous other charter boats to help as many Veterans as possible.
This was no challenge for Port Washington High School student volunteers who met at each boat, hoisted each wheelchair into the boat and did the same upon the boat’s return to the marina.
The day was perfect for fishing ―70 degrees, clear skies and calm waters. For Collins, a U.S. Army Veteran, there could be only one thing better ― one more fish.
“Oh, look,” Collins says while motioning the boat captain to a rod bouncing off the boat. “Yeah!”
Collins starts reeling in the fish. She struggled with the fish for more than five minutes. Reeling in over 375 feet of line tired her out, but it was worth the fight and the win – a 20-plus pound King Salmon.
“Man, my forearms are tired,” Collins said while trying to hold the fish up for the camera. “I cannot even hold up the fish!”
She tries with two hands, still too tired, but this former Army nurse was in it to the end.
“This day,” said Captain Bill Driscoll, “this day is all about these Veterans.”
Driscoll, who captains “The Office,” volunteered his boat the last seven years and said this is the highlight of the fishing experience.
He hands off the boat steering and jumps down to the deck to set up rods and reels and chat with the Veterans on board.
This fishing experience helps a lot of people.
Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran Bill Baumgardt caught a couple fish of his own.
“Man, this is really tiring,” he said while reeling and chuckling. “But so worth it.”
This is Baumgardt’s fourth year participating, and he said this year was just as good as the last, if not better.
“I just loved it,” he said. “The camaraderie is really nice, there are good people and all around, it’s a great experience.”
In addition to camaraderie, there are benefits for all. For some Veterans, this may be a first time in a public atmosphere.
“This increases socialization with peers,” said VA Recreation Therapist Kristine Kulas. “It is a safe, leisurely, substance and chemical free environment.”
All around, the Port Washington community and Milwaukee VA really pull it together to make this day the best experience possible for our Veterans.”
“We always want to say thank you to our Veterans,” said Driscoll. “This is only one way we can do that. They deserve it.”