A few years ago, David Souder wandered down to the shore along the Indian River Inlet in Delaware. With a heavy heart, he quietly made his way along the bank.
"I was just standing there, watching the water come in, watching the guys fishing," Souder said.
And then, an older man approached. "He said, 'Marine, what's wrong?'" Souder said with a grin. "And I'm thinking, 'How does he know I'm a Marine?'"
David Souder’s dream has become Wounded Warriors Anglers.
As the older man taught Souder to tie flies that evening, he revealed that he, too, was a veteran.
Souder, who was injured in 2008, had struggled through multiple surgeries and yearned for a way to turn off his mind so he could rest for a while. As it turned out, Souder found the safe silence he needed on that shore, with a fishing pole in hand.
"Dave started staying at the river longer and longer. And there was a big change in him," said Souder's wife, Judy. Initially, she accompanied her husband to the river. But then she stayed at home while he often fished for hours and, occasionally, all night. "When he came home, I saw peace. So I'd say, 'Just call me every couple of hours, let me know you're not in the water.'"
When the Souders relocated from Delaware to Florida, David was feeling physically and emotionally stronger. He was also feeling grateful. He wanted to somehow share what he found on the river with other wounded military members.
Soon after the move to Pine Island, David Souder's dream project became a reality. Known as Wounded Warrior Anglers, this non-profit organization reaches out to veterans and soldiers of every war. Since the launch of the project, 129 servicemen and women have come to Pine Island, some with their spouses and children. They have been warmly welcomed by members of the community. And many of them return to again fish along the shore, knowing that a fishing pole and sun on the water work as a salve sometimes to heal mental and emotional scars.
Unlike soldiers before them, military members of today's war on terrorism might return more than two or three times to Afghanistan and suicide rates are higher among soldiers than ever before, David Souder said.
"They get lost in the shuffle when they get home," He said. "They get forgotten about. A lot of them are still fighting the war in their head."
It doesn't matter to the Wounded Warrior Anglers if a veteran fought in Korea or Vietnam or any other place in America's military history.
"If you have a service-connected disability or injury, you are welcome here," he said.
Referrals often come word-of-mouth, he said. Participants arrive on a Friday evening. Since the program began, Anglers Motel has always provided accommodations and breakfast has been served free-of-charge at the old Fish House.
During the weekend retreat, Souder and fellow service men and women meet the boat captain for their fishing excursion. Caregivers gather with Judy Souder at Spa 33. Kids often learn how to kayak.
"Since we've put this together, it's given me a sense of miracles," Judy Souder said. "We are touched by so many awesome individuals who share their lives with us.
David Souder knows, to the deepest part of his heart, that the Wounded Warrior Anglers' mission statement, 'Changing lives, one warrior at a time," could not be more true.
"I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for fishing and Judy," He said.
Proceeds from the Original "Redfish Poker" Fishing Championship Fundraiser on May 26 at the Olde Fish House Marina, benefit the Wounded Warrior Anglers:
Team Boat Kayak/SUP
(Registration $225) (Registration $65)
1st - $1,000 1st - $500
2nd - $500 2nd - Rod & Reel
3rd - $250 3rd - Kayak paddle
Redfish Poker game rules and registration forms are available online: Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. or contact David Souder: 423 620-9103
Raffle tickets for a Nautic Star, (18 ft., 90-horse power four stroke Yamaha with a magic tilt trailer) are $20 each. Raffle tickets may be purchased at the following locations: Olde Fish House Marina, Spa 33, Miceli's Restaurant, Cape Tool & Tackle and Capt. Rob's Bait & Tackle. Drawing for the boat will be on Memorial Day or sooner if raffle tickets sell out before then.