The Veterans Fishing Organization fundraiser Feb. 23 at the Oxford Civic Center isn’t just about music, games and classic cars: Money raised will get veterans out of the house and on the river.
“It’s excellent, considering us veterans don’t have an outlet like that sometimes,” said Richard Dupont, a retired Marine Corps veteran who lives in Georgia, where the organization is based. “We can’t afford to go out with the guys or things like that.”
The event includes a concert with country musician Johnathan East, a car and truck show, a cornhole tournament and a bass fishing seminar, starting with cars at 10 a.m., closing with the concert at 6 p.m.
Dupont said he went on a few fishing trips over the last two years with Ken Bearden, the organization’s founder, after Dupont was diagnosed with cancer in his lung and had half of it removed to stop the disease from spreading. One of those trips was just hours after a chemo treatment — an outing that Bearden said he put together to fit inside a tight window of time between the treatment and the sluggish, awful sickness that sets in afterward.
Bearden said the trips make a big difference for the veterans he works with, who have lost limbs, developed illnesses or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder tied to their service. They can’t always talk openly with their families, he said, but they seem to open up out on the water.
“Once they get out on the lake and get to fishing and start enjoying themselves, they’ll open up. Their wives normally come pick them up and I’ve had so many say, ‘He never talks about what happened in Vietnam or North Korea,’ and I’ll say, ‘He sure told me a lot today,’” Bearden said. “It’s because I’m different from (their family), there’s no threats, no walls built up.”
Bearden lived near Anniston until 2000, he said, when his wife’s work took him to LaGrange, Ga., a city about 10 miles from the Alabama border. He was a graduate of Saks High School, and Blue Mountain Elementary before that.
He said he’s been a fishing guide professionally for years, but started taking veterans out after his friend, Joe Gilham, died in 2013 from complications caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. In 2018, Bearden took 80 veterans out on fishing trips, he said.
He said he’s hoping the fundraiser will pay for this year’s trips, which will be resumed once the weather gets warm.