Daily Egyptian

Southern Illinois hunt unites wounded veterans (PHOTOS)

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Henry C. Ruth III, of Springfield, Tenn., points to another hunting group Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt at Grassy Lake Hunting Club in Jonesboro. “I think it’s very healing for those who are wounded to come out and be with their own soldiers that are just like them,” said Ruth, who retired from the Army after 28 years of service. “Being able to do that makes them normal.” (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Henry C. Ruth III, of Springfield, Tenn., points to another hunting group Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt at Grassy Lake Hunting Club in Jonesboro. “I think it’s very healing for those who are wounded to come out and be with their own soldiers that are just like them,” said Ruth, who retired from the Army after 28 years of service. “Being able to do that makes them normal.” (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Henry C. Ruth III, of Springfield, Tenn., points to another hunting group Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt at Grassy Lake Hunting Club in Jonesboro. “I think it’s very healing for those who are wounded to come out and be with their own soldiers that are just like them,” said Ruth, who retired from the Army after 28 years of service. “Being able to do that makes them normal.” (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Tyra Wooten

Eighteen veterans ventured into open fields earlier this week for hunting season. Though they didn’t bring home much to show, the experience is really what mattered, they said.

Grassy Lake Hunt Club sponsored its eighth-annual Wounded Warrior Hunt for veterans on Wednesday across its 300 acres in Jonesboro alongside Highway 146.

“It’s therapeutic for them,” Wounded Warrior community organizer Tom Goetz said of the event. “They’re able to get out into the field with another soldier and they tell stories and it helps them recover.”

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The event, funded in part by community donations, is open to active or retired soldiers wounded in combat, Goetz said.

James Wilson, a veteran from Los Angeles who lost his right leg during his 32 years in the service, said the event reminded him of his active duty days.

“You find that after you’re discharged from the military, you’re no longer a part of a team anymore and it has a significant impact on your quality of life and ego,” Wilson said.

Grassy Lake Hunting Club guide Duane Smith, right, and John Thomas, of Nashville, Tenn., make their way to a hunting blind Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt in Jonesboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Grassy Lake Hunting Club guide Duane Smith, right, and John Thomas, of Nashville, Tenn., make their way to a hunting blind Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt in Jonesboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Duane Smith, who has been a hunting guide at Grassy Lake for seven years, said the event helps the veterans “relax a little bit.”

“It gets their mind off of everything going on in their life,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, the club lodge walls were filled with taxidermy, and most of the space inside was taken up by hunters, all dressed in camouflage, waiting to head out to the field.

As groups of hunters rode out with guides in small pickup trucks to the hunting pits, the trucks swerved through the mud and plowed through the wet cornfield.

Once they reached the pits to hunt from, they situated themselves into the blinds with roofs covered in corn stalks for camouflage. The fields surrounding the hunting pits were filled with duck and goose decoys.

Then the waiting game began.

Grassy Lake Hunting Club guide Duane Smith smokes a cigarette while watching for incoming ducks Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt in Jonesboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Grassy Lake Hunting Club guide Duane Smith smokes a cigarette while watching for incoming ducks Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt in Jonesboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

The night before, many of the veterans attended SIU’s basketball game against Murray State, where they were recognized during halftime.

“Making them feel welcomed to southern Illinois is a way for us to show our support and appreciation,” said Paul Copeland, SIU coordinator of veteran services. “The idea was to create an opportunity for them to get out of their normal environment and go do something enjoyable.”

Goetz said many veterans return home from the military with nothing to look forward to besides feeling idle and missing the togetherness of the military.

“Wives have told me that these events help save their husbands and their marriage,” Goetz said.

Ryan Michalesko
Stacie Van Drie, of Union City, Tenn., watches for incoming ducks Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, during a Wounded Warriors duck hunt at Grassy Lake Hunting Club in Jonesboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Retired Army Colonel Henry Ruth III, of Springfield, Tenn., said the hunt was “very very impressive.”

“And more impressive was how we were treated at the university last night and the coaches, and the recognition for the soldiers was just terrific so we were up here to sponsor and help them,” he said.

Ruth III, who served in the Army for 28 years and saw combat time in Vietnam, said some of the veterans don’t get many chances to come out and hunt like this, so the two-day event offers them a safe, controlled condition in which to do so.

“It’s also very healing for those who are wounded and have issues to come out and be with people and be with their own soldiers that are just like them, and that makes them normal,” he said.

Ryan Michalesko contributed to this report.

Staff writer Tyra Wooten can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @twootenDE.

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