It’s been a while since I attended a Heroes On the Water-Space Coast Chapter event. I’ve been working most weekends so my schedule has not worked out with the Sunday events. Fortunately, I didn’t have anything planned for Memorial Day and noticed there was an event so I put it on my calendar.
The plan was to form a precession of kayaks with flags while one lead boat paddled an empty boat with a POW/MIA flag in it. Everyone would follow that boat (paddled by Bones) to the Veterans Memorial Museum a mile away from the launch at Kiwanis Island Park in Merritt Island. We were met there by a boat and after the kayaks made a full circle around the boat, Taps was played while we all took a moment of silence. From there we broke the circle to paddle towards the empty kayak and place photos of friends or family we have lost inside of the boat. Once completed, we followed that boat back to the boat ramp.
While Memorial Day is typically focused on people lost during the war, my focus was on one particular individual. His name was Lance and I met him in early 2014 via phone conversation. Our paths crossed for multiple reasons and once our first phone conversation was over, he drove to my house where we sat and chatted about life. Outside of being in the service, we shared a lot. I asked him to go out fishing with the group at a HOW event and he was at the very next one. It was an awesome event and we caught a lot of fish. The atmosphere was great with smiles to leave your face a bit sore.
Lance and I kept in touch from time to time and I observed as his life got better during the year. I was unable to get him back out on the water after the first event because he always seemed to be busy. Towards the end of 2014, I sent him a text in which he replied something along the lines that he was doing great and getting ready to return to school. That was the last I heard from Lance because in early 2015, I got word that he took his own life. Lance had a case of PTSD and struggled to maintain when he returned from the service. In my book, I consider that a Prisoner of War and only thought it was right for me to paddle on Memorial Day, 2016 with my most memorable photo of this young man. It was an honor to do so and it was an honor to have him in my life for the short period we were friends.
As the former coordinator of the Space Coast Chapter, I understand what it takes to get events done. It takes time, dedication and sometimes aches and pains. All while never receiving a paycheck because it is volunteer driven and in order to be a great volunteer, you need to have a very big heart. Vinnie and Bones took the Chapter over in 2015 and I couldn’t be more proud of them and their big hearts as well as the entire crew that supports the Chapter. They are not only doing a great job but they are Veterans themselves and I am grateful for their services. Kayak fishing has changed my life considering I live with a disability. It does the same for Veterans that have served our Country. The healing process goes way beyond the individual that goes fishing. It leaves a ripple effect in the home, the work place and that person’s entire circle of friends. Look up Heroes On the Water on Facebook and if you have a Veteran friend or family member that may be having a rough time, invite them out. Chances are, there’s a Chapter near you.
To all of those that have been, are in and will be in the service, I thank you. For those who never made it out, my thoughts are with the people you left behind.
Lance, it was an honor to paddle you around with me on Memorial Day.