The wounded warriors arrived in Gulf County last Wednesday.They left on Sunday having a community apply a soothing balm.
Other than rough seas that delayed the fishing until Saturday the Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend provided a great escape for 20 warriors and their caregivers who enjoyed postcard weather, a warm community embrace and plenty of fun.
From the Honor Parade and Banquet that officially kicked off the event last Thursday, and which saw hundreds line the parade route and gather at the Centennial Building for a welcoming salute to a day of offshore fishing, the weekend was one to remember.
“Coming here to the Forgotten Coast, that is a name, because I am not going to forget,” said Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta who served as keynote speaker at the banquet and snagged some fish, despite being totally blind, over the weekend.
“This is about the warriors and also those spouses and caregivers who continue to hang in there. By extending those arms, extending that hand, if we forget it is not because we want to but because of our issues. But the memory of this will come back.”
The honored guests sure had an opportunity to enjoy Gulf County under gleaming skies and warm, but not too warm, temperatures.
Fishing wasn’t the only pastime that warriors and their caregivers embraced.
There were horseback rides at dawn, a trip to the local shooting range, a bit of retail therapy and opportunities to just relax in sugar sands.
The fishing was made possible by boat captains who donated vessels, time and supplies.
“They were fantastic,” said SPC Ryan Campbell, an attendee of a prior FCWWW and returned as a mentor this year. “We have had a lot fun. We’ve spent a lot of time just joking around, ribbing each other. You have to have a thick skin around these guys.
“But I was here to help them with whatever they needed or wanted. I was glad to come.”
After rebooting the fishing due to rough seas on Friday, all warriors returned safely on Saturday and in addition to bearing fish, and not small fish, either, and all were wearing wide smiles.
“Everything went very, very well,” said George Duren, who sits on the event organizing committee. “Our warriors and caregivers were happy when they got here and even happier when they left.
“It was amazing to see them practically always smiling. They all gave our community high praise for the event.”
And the community turned out.
In addition to those who lined the parade route or greeted the warriors at the Centennial Building, more than 200 members of the community volunteered their time to make the event a success.
Those volunteers did everything from cooking and serving the Honor Banquet to providing entertainment for the banquet and weekend.
That community involvement, Duren noted, has increased with each FCWWW, which was the point when the organizing committee conceived of the idea.
Folks from beyond Gulf County, including Franklin County and Mexico Beach, were among the volunteers and many, along with boat captains, were lining up for next year.
“You guys pour your hearts into this event,” said Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, who also spoke at Thursday night’s banquet. “Every warrior and caregiver feels it, it is genuine.
“This town opens its doors and that is unique.”
At a low country boil on Saturday evening, the warriors were awarded plaques for their fishing acumen.
First place was earned by Anthony Cerrone, with boat captain Zach Ferrell, for landing a 73.4 pound shark.
Second place went to Ronald Cuevas for his 64.2 pounds of amberjack from the boat captained by Guy Williams
Third was won by Kathy Champion, who snagged 52.2 pounds of amberjack aboard the boat of Langdon Flowers. Champion is blind from her war injuries.