24 veterans join in Stars & Stripers tournament
CHESTER — The 7th annual Project Healing Waters Stars & Stripers Fly-Fishing tournament took place Saturday, Aug. 20, hosted again by Dominion Marina. The event has been held there for the past seven years, as Vietnam War veteran, U.S. Army Major (Retired) Edwin “Doc” C. Fulton, owner of the marina, has made this event a priority each year.
Fulton said, “I do this because I’m a disabled veteran myself. I know what it takes to get back into civilian life and the struggles it takes to make the adjustments after being wounded/injured. I know what these veterans are going through.”
The recipient of two Purple Hearts for his 16 month of service in Vietnam, 1970-71, Fulton served as a medic. He was most severely injured when a helicopter he was flying in crashed in Vietnam.
In civilian life, Fulton transitioned to become an orthopedic surgeon, and he still practices in Chester. He also has made 11 trips back to Vietnam with other veterans, providing free medical care to Vietnamese citizens, most recently in the fall of 2015.
Fulton has developed a longstanding alliance with Project Healing Waters FlyFishing, a registered 501(c)3 organization that’s special mission is to provide recreational fly-fishing experiences to wounded veterans who are still recovering from the injuries they received while serving our nation. This year was the largest turnout in the past seven years with 24 veterans coming from several locations where they are currently receiving medical care from the military.
All who attended, veterans, their family members and many local volunteer boat captains, were provided a free hardy hot breakfast early Saturday morning, before a patriotic opening ceremony took place. An American flag donated to Dominion Marina, that had flown in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012, was raised as young Brandi Squibb, 11, of Centreville, sang “God Bless America” a capella, followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was the second consecutive year Brandi has performed at this event.
The veterans then went out in the Eastern Chesapeake Bay fly-fishing for four hours, hauling in huge numbers — especially rockfish — in a catch and release program. One veteran, John Jenkins, caught 80 Rockfish in four hours. Another, former U.S. Marine Captain Kim Smith, caught 26 rockfish and two American shad fish.
Project Healing Waters Coordinator Mark Eustic presented awards to Jenkins and Smith, as well as for the largest and second largest fish caught in the tournament. Largest was a 22-inch rockfish caught by Lee Barbee; second largest, 21-inch rockfish caught by veteran Crystal Carr.
Eustis also introduced waterman Gary Neitzey, who founded the local fly-fishing excursion seven years ago, beginning with only two boats, his own and that of another local waterman.
Neitzey said, “We just wanted to take some wounded veterans out fishing — that’s how it started.”
After returning the marina, the veterans were greeted with four bushels of steamed crabs donated by Fisherman’s Crab Deck, and steamed and fried clams donated by many local waterman in the area, including the Ringgold family, Jesse, Josh, Johnny, Debbie, Jean and Jack; David and Brandon Baxter; Victor Jones; Mike Gardner; Frank Schultz; Billy Benton; Alice Moore; and Jason Ruth.
The following local businesses also contributed with donations: in Chester, Wester Marine, The Flower Shop, Chesapeake Outdoors; in Grasonville, Harris Crab House, Rental Works, Bryan’s Farm Stand; and in Stevensville, Peace of Cake. The Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department also made a contribution.
The big winners during the 7th annual Stars & Stripers Healing Waters Fly-Fishing event, Saturday, Aug. 20, from the left, Pascal Award winner Kim Smith, who caught 26 rockfish and two American shad; John Jenkins, who caught 80 rockfish with fishing boat Captain Richie Gaines; Crystal Carr, who caught a 21-inch rockfish; Healing Waters Coordinator Mark Eustis; and Lee Barbee who caught the largest rockfish of the day at 22 inches.
Some of the veterans and their fishing boat captains enjoyed a wonderful meal of steamed crabs donated by Fisherman’s Crab Deck, and steamed/fried clams donated by many local waterman following the 7th annual Stars & Stripers Healing Waters Fly-Fishing event, held at Dominion Marina, Saturday, Aug. 20.