Some former Marines helped their wounded comrades enjoy a day on the water during the Second Annual Marines Helping Marines Fishing Tournament, June 26, at Lake Hopatcong.
The open benefit tournament included nine wounded Marines from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital. They were paired with pro anglers, including Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dave Wolak and Bassmaster Open competitors Rick Ash, Frank Ippoliti and Pete Gluszek.
Also serving as a boat captain was Joe Kowalski, a Connecticut BASS Federation Nation member and a former Marine. Kowalski is the president of Major Steven Roy Andrews Fishing Outreach Program Inc., which takes veterans and at-risk and needy kids fishing. Joby Poster, a Bassmaster Open competitor and a former Marine, initiated the tournament last year.
In total, 28 teams participated. The tournament proceeds went to Marines Helping Marines, a nonprofit organization that provides support for injured Marine Corps personnel. Cpl. Rocky Hoard took first place in the Marines division of the competition and won a trip to Cancun.
"Most of the Marines were injured while in Afghanistan," said Eric Kowal, a former Marine who helped Poster promote the tournament.
"Some of the guys who fished it last year came back," said Poster. "One of the guys, Larry Draughn, is a double amputee and is an avid fisherman. His wife told me he has more than 30 rods in his house that he has collected in the last year." Draughn was paired with Gluszek, and the duo finished in the Top 10 of the tournament.
"They don't want any sympathy, but it is hard for me to see some of these young kids with no legs and injured hands," said Kowalski, a Black Bass Anglers club member. "But to them it was no big deal — they were ready to go. They really got into the fishing."