Early in January, the Willow Creek Wildlife Management Association, supported by Clarence and Dianna Drake from Carmeuse Industrial Sands of Brady, hosted sixteen handicapped veterans for the fifth annual hunt.
The veterans consisted of nine wounded warriors straight from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and seven members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (most of whom are permanent retirees of the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars). We also had twenty-four other supporting members, including one full time doctor, one full time nurse, a pharmacist, two men who come every year to dress and transport the harvest, peer counselors, and assistants for each hunter.
To put on this hunt is a big undertaking, and it would be impossible without the unselfish efforts of the women and men who support this hunt year after year. This year Frances and James Toeppich’s hunters from Brenham were the cook staff, and showed up with enough food to feed an army, including Blue Bell ice cream donated by the creamery in Brenham. As usual, the Willow Creek wives brought desserts, salads, and favorite dishes. David Willmann of Brady Co-Op Locker always gives us a special rate on the sixty-five pounds of sirloin we cook for the Friday noon meal, and Joe Martinez and Donald Schulze had enough left over for fajitas for lunch on Saturday.
With the weather cooperating, we had a good hunt. The final harvest tally was fourteen does, four spikes, two hogs, and a great time. Most of all, the best reward was time away from San Antonio and the hospital. Some got to show off their new robotic knees and elbows, a vast improvement over what we saw just five years ago. It will never replace their own legs, but as one soldier put it, at least he can walk upright and not depend on the chair all the time. And, if you could only see the way the three quadriplegics shoot with the weapons built for them by Savage Arms, using tubes they blow into to direct the rifle and fire it, it is so rewarding you just wouldn’t believe it.
For those of you who annually make the anonymous donation to offset the cost of the meal at Zavalas on Saturday night, we can only say thanks. We figure we know who you are, but we may be surprised. Mason and Mason County has a history steeped in military tradition, and has given many soldiers in the line of duty over the years. In this case as in the past, as was written in some thank you notes recently, we don’t think that these young men and women realize yet the extent of their sacrifice to their country and to our way of life. So next year, you don’t need an invitation to participate in this undertaking. Just show up, support these young veterans, and feel good about your future.
If you want to thank the families who support this endeavor, remember James and Frances Toeppich, John and Sharon McCool, Jean Lyon, Herman and Jimmy Hitzfelder, John D. and Lou Fleming, Bob and Mary Beth Fleming, Randy and Kim Hinckley, Pearl Leifeste, Stephen and Joyce Mutschink, Ken and Sarah Stahl, John and Lucia Barrett, Steve and Karen Toone, Jack and Dorothy Asbill, Donald and Kathy Schulze, David and Carolyn Vater, Nathaniel and Wanda Jordan, Jeff and Dorothy Grote, Laird and Beth Palmer, and Sterling and Carlita Jordan.
Several of these men and women started out just providing food or services. Jeff Grote just wanted to contribute, and dressed deer one night during one of our coldest hunts. We have a group of young men whose eyes have been opened to what we would say is the world beyond Mason County by working with the veterans as guides, skinners, field dressers, stand builders, and jacks of all trades. They are Bruce Williams, Mike Hahn, Cracker Crouch, Logan Toone, Chad Foster, Cameron Keith, Tanner Brown, Taylor Slocum, and Jake Beam.
We started out blind, so to speak, and as most of you know, the man who started the “Mason County Texas Project” is a blind veteran, Stanley McGowan, who hunts annually with Steve Toone. He works to get funding, ammunition, firearms, hunting and fishing trips for these men and women. So when we started, we were not ready to support these hunters. Our blinds were mostly elevated, so we had to construct ground blinds. Then we had to adapt the ground blinds to accept the power wheel chairs. One rancher even built a handicapped bathroom. Five years later, we are only getting better. Stanley Henrich last year gave us a lift chair to attach to one of our elevated blinds that we can roll a wheel chair on, lift the vet to the platform, then into the blind, and back down.
We don’t want to go on and on, but if you saw the spirit and morale of these young women and men, you would want to go on and on, too. The first article written about this hunt was submitted by Kandace Smith in December of 2005. We hoped then that we would be out of business, with no more casualties, with less and less amputees to work with, but this has not been the case. We do not know what the future holds, but we will be here for them the first week of doe and spike season of 2010. Come see us.
By the way, we know that you good people of Mason County are asked to support every thing in the world. Bit if you are so moved to support this cause, through contribution, or memorial, or whatever, The Commerical Bank will accept your donation to a savings account under the Mason County Texas Project. As far as what this group of people does for Mason, other than bragging about us, just multiply forty or so individuals by a couple of days staying in the local motels, eating in the restaurants, shopping, and otherwise supporting our economy and it sure adds up.
Finally, it’s just a feel good thing. Ask any of us about it. It’s just a good thing.