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Truman Veterans Hospital patients go fly-fishing

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | 10:26 p.m. CDT; updated 4:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Lee Kudrna, right, of Jefferson City, shows Ash Heibel, an Iraq veteran from Columbia, how to properly reel in the line for a fly fishing rod Wednesday afternoon at Little Dixie Lake in Millersburg. Kudrna and the Capital City Fly Fishers spend several days a month teaching fly tying and fly casting to veterans through recreational programming at the Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia.

MILLERSBURG — At one end of a boat dock, two men laugh at the size of their measly catch, a 5-inch long bluegill. At the other end, an argument has started over whether fighting in a dark jungle is more difficult than battling insurgents in urban cities.

Members from the Capital City Fly Fishers Club invited patients at the Truman Veterans Hospital out for an afternoon of fishing Wednesday at Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area east of Columbia. The group got a chance to learn how to fly-fish and to reel in a few fish.

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Erin Carr and Nicole Stevens, both recreational therapists at the Veterans Hospital, helped organize the event.

“We like to take them out somewhere every week whether it’s barbecues, bowling, trips to the movies or a visit to the casino in Boonville,” Carr said. “We also take an annual fishing trip every year to the Lake of the Ozarks to Camp Wonderland and spend a day on accessible boats.”

Carr said the events allow the veterans to interact and have a good time.

“It’s good just to be out here and around people and just experience things,” Otis Bowers said.

Bowers, a Moberly resident who is originally from Lawrence, Kan., made several tours of duty in different countries in the 1970s. He said he enjoys getting outside and bonding with other ex-soldiers.

“Some of these guys I know, and some I just met,” Bowers said. “They are just fun to be around.”

The veterans also get a chance to tell their stories to one another.

“They are all vets, we are all brothers,” Jimmie Smithson said. “I love being around other vets because we all know what we’ve been through, and we all can talk and support one another.”

Smithson, originally from Oklahoma, did three tours of duty in Iraq in four years.

Some of the veterans brought standard spinning or push button reels, but a few tested out the fly rods the fishing club brought with them.

“This is my first time I’ve ever been fly-fishing, and this was awesome that they came out to teach us how to fly-fish,” Ash Heibel said. “I think I like it and might want to get into fly-fishing a little more now thanks to them.”

Heibel, an Army reservist from Hallsville, did a tour of duty in Iraq and is now a registered nurse. His job allowed him to meet many in the group, and he has started attending events with the patients. Heibel says he is thankful for all that people do for not only his generation of veterans, but for past generations as well.

Heibel said sitting down and talking to the older veterans helps him deal with being back home after an overseas tour. He spent most of the afternoon fishing and comparing his experiences with those of the older veterans.

“Its neat to come out and hear all the stories from these guys and honestly realize how bad they had it and how I can be thankful for what people do now,” Heibel said.

Most of the veterans said they plan to come out again and look forward to spending time with fly fishers again soon.

The Capital Fly Fishers Club, based in Jefferson City, usually donates its time to the hospital a couple times a month. Throughout the year, members have stopped by the hospital to help teach patients how to tie flies.


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