- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

MARBURY, Md.

United States Army E-6 Jason Letterman became wheelchair-bound when a roadside bomb blew away his legs in 2008. It happened in Farisiyah, Iraq, while the 34-year-old from Marshfield, Mo., served a third tour.

But a week ago on a bright, sunny day, Staff Sgt. Letterman sat along the Smallwood State Park’s marina bulkheads, pointing a fishing rod toward a patch of milfoil weeds in the Mattawoman Creek. He fired off a fine cast toward an open-water pocket in the mostly submersed vegetation, hoping his imitation crawfish lure would attract a bass.

A Wounded Warrior - as injured servicemen and women are respectfully referred to - Letterman was one of the participants in the Army vs. Marines Spring Bass Challenge held at the state park’s Sweden Point Marina and in all of the adjacent waters, from the creek out into the broad Potomac River.

More than 70 injured and disabled soldiers and Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan showed up, all of them intending to catch the largemouth bass that the tidal Potomac is justly renowned for.

The man behind the friendly contest, Army chaplain Jeremiah Catlin, could never have pulled it off had he not received an immense amount of support from the National Wild Turkey Federation and its “Wheelin’ Sportsman” program, with assistance from Billy Moore and the Maryland chapter of the Wild Turkey Federation. Then there were helpful local bass clubbers who volunteered to take the wounded vets onto the river in their bass boats to show where and how the bass can be caught.

Pat Bright, an area manager for the Maryland Park Service who also oversees the Charles County park, had no trouble enlisting employees and volunteers to lend a hand. Park maintenance specialist Willy Farrall could have had the day off, but he wanted to show his appreciation for all the veterans had done. Farrall stayed throughout the day, as did the people who work for Mike’s Bar-B-Que & Catering and served up pulled pork, chicken, beans and other goodies.

The American Red Cross showed up in full force. Rocky’s Bait donated hooks, sinkers and night crawlers for the veterans’ families who wanted to fish from the shore. The Gerber knife people donated prizes, as did the Shakespeare fishing tackle company, Pro Swimbaits, ProBassShop.com and others.

When it was over, the combat veterans showed up at a weigh station with their fish, and Catlin almost lost his calm demeanor when he accidentally unplugged a laptop that the catches had been recorded on and the screen went blank. Happily, the data came back. When the cheers and clapping stopped, Marine Dan Jefford won top honors with five bass that weighed a very fine 15.82 pounds.

As a group, the Marines did slightly better, but there was no animosity shown by the soldiers. They were back home enjoying a happy slice of the American experience - their life.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s detailed weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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