They come to fish and the healing begins.
The official name is North Texas Project Healing Waters and Veteran Johnny Walker hosts the event at Lake Fork. Walker is now the director of the North Texas organization. This year’s event was held on Oct. 7.
“We take any soldier, from any branch of service, of any gender and we try to get them out to different places and teach them how to fly fish. It’s one of those things you must concentrate. It helps them relax, it kind of pushes all that other stuff out of the way. It brings some of these guys together and helps them find what they need,” Walker said. “They are able to start the networking process of healing. There is nothing like being in out there and being able to have some peace and quiet. We had four men this time, but the time before we hosted female vets.”
The residents of Highland Shores RV Park on the east side of Lake Fork host a big barbecque dinner after the veterans finish fish. “The wonderful people of Highland Shores make sure these veterans are taken care of on Saturday evening. They are a wonderful group of folks who simply love these veterans and want to do something for them,” Walker said. “Tony Parker at the Minnow Bucket also stepped up for us this time giving the veterans a place for the night free of charge. It’s people like that who make this successful.”
Viet Nam veteran James Barnes attended his first Healing Waters event. “Healing Waters was great Since coming back from Nam, I never thought that much about all the things I did in Nam. I was just glad to get to go fishing with these great guys. I never thought that much about what I did, it was just my job. Healing Waters made me think of what I did in Nam,” Barnes explained. “All the guys at Healing Waters were very nice. It has been 50 years since I was in Nam and I hope that all things work out for all of us vets... I am going to meet with my unit from Nam in May of this year and I’m glad to have had this experience. Thanks to Jerry Walker of Healing Waters for inviting me and getting to see what Healing Waters does for us veterans.”
Jerry Walker is Johnny Walker’s brother. He took part in the program a couple of years ago and is now active in the organization. “You have a guy who is an amputee or has PTSD, and we get him out there in the water and he gets a boost. It’s good physical therapy, and then there’s the emotional part,” Jerry Walker noted. “There is nothing like being out there in the water and you are able to think clearly and just feel the peace come over you.”
Cody Bennett fished in this year’s healing Waters event and is active in another veteran’s organization which serves PTSD victims. “I met Johnny (Walker) at another event serving veterans. And he invited me to Healing Waters,” Bennett said. “I am really glad I made it to this program. Being out there on the lake fishing gives a man time to think and contemplate about his life. There is something about water that is healing.”
Besides Barnes and Bennett, veterans David Inbody, College Station, and Scott Palamino, Fort Worth, also fished in the event. “This has been a great time and everybody here has been so nice. I appreciate what everyone has done for us,” Palamino said.
The event was also highlighted by the unveiling of a huge outdoor cooker donated by Highland Shores residents Ray and Beth Bray. “We love our veterans and just wanted to do something for them,” Ray Bray said.
The national organization distributes fly tying and fly fishing equipment to the local programs. Local volunteers contribute gear, time and expertise. The program is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. The project provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes. Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided free of charge to participants.
The volunteers teach classes on an ongoing, long-term basis. It is much more than a one-day fishing trip. For many participants, particularly disabled veterans, the socialization and camaraderie of the classes are just as important as the fishing outings, and provide them a new activity.
For more information, or to find out how you can donate to the organization, go to their website at www.projecthealingwaters.org.