Comrades in Rods

Comrades in Rods
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Spirits were high and the waters calm when Brooklyn veterans set sail from Sheepshead Bay on an annual fishing trip on July 8.

The second yearly outing was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Gravesend and the Veterans Support Center of the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs hospital at Fort Hamilton, and aims to boost morale and encourage veterans to socialize.

“It’s very hard for a lot of these guys to socialize and just get out of the house,” said Gennaro DeLuca, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War who participates in the center’s program. “This gives them an avenue to escape and get back into feeling more comfortable in civilian life.”

About 50 veterans and their families, sponsors, and staff from the hospital board the Ranger VI fishing charter to unwind and reel in.

“They’re in a different world when they’re on that boat,” said Bill D’Emic, Chairman of the Kiwanis Club of Gravesend and a Vietnam veteran. “Just putting bait on a hook — they’re in their glory. When they catch a fish, it doesn’t make a difference what kind of fish, they feel really good. That’s why I started sponsoring them.”

Out at sea, the camaraderie and mutual support the armed forces are famous for fostered an all-around good time for everyone.

“One of the guys that was standing next to me on the boat is allergic to fish but he was just catching them one after the other,” said Lecia Rodriguez-Whyte, an Iraq War veteran and a Peer Support Specialist for the program. “I got one, but it was too short so I had to throw it back in — but he gave me one of his to take home, which was awesome.”

The Ranger VI set sail during fluke season, leading to friendly competition among the vets. Some challenged each other on who could catch the biggest fish and others lamented the “big one that got away,” according to Bert Hirsch, director of the Veterans Support Center.

DeLuca said functions like the fishing trip are important for veterans’ wellbeing.

“We owe a lot to the people that support us,” he said.

Service honored: Gravesend Kiwanis Club chairman Bill D’Emic and his wife Francine, at right, prepare to embark from Pier 4 in Sheepshead Bay with Iraq War vet Lecia Rodriques-Whyte, center, and other veterans.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto