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Membership Notes, November/December 2018

Photo: Greg Kucharewski

Gone Fishing: Chapter 12’s Multifaceted Angling Efforts


During a memorable patrol in Vietnam, Greg Kucharewski’s squad came across a recently abandoned NVA camp. One of the items left behind was a bamboo cage, likely used for American POWs. The image seared itself into his psyche and would haunt him for years. It led him to New Jersey Shore Area Chapter 12.

In the late 1980s, Kucharewski attended a Memorial Day parade in Brick Township in which members of Chapter 12 were marching and hauling a bamboo cage as part of their POW awareness project. Kucharewski, shaken, flashed back to 1968. Seeing his old military hat, Chapter member Jim “Big Tuna” Monahan went over to the sidewalk and invited him into the line of march. That formed a friendship that ended years later with Monahan’s death related to Agent Orange exposure. It also was the impetus for Kucharewski to combine his love for fishing with his desire to support fellow veterans with PTSD.

Kucharewski was a lifelong fisherman, following in his father’s footsteps. Starting at age five, he fished in ponds and streams near his Elizabeth, N.J., home. On family vacations at the Jersey Shore he honed his salt water skills. When he relocated to Brick Township, he taught his daughter the sport and family outings were the norm.

Kucharewski joined a fishing club and got involved in activities centered on children. He became the Youth Education Coordinator for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and involved himself in the “Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs” initiative. Despite all his volunteer activities, he still had an unsettled feeling.

Soon after retiring, Kucharewski approached Chapter 12 with a proposal to start a fishing program for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. President Dennis Beauregard immediately appointed him the project chair. The chapter kicked in seed money and a local VFW post provided facilities for seminars. Don “Sparky” Davison was drafted onto the committee.

The activity was dubbed “Play Hook e From PTSD” and a logo was designed. Notices went out to veterans organizations. The first group of fishing enthusiasts met on a Saturday morning. Fishing clubs donated equipment and the program was off the ground.

What happened over the ensuing years was unexpected. The program became a safe haven for vets from the Vietnam War and subsequent conflicts. Networking with supportive services and the involvement of chapter members, who provided emotional support, helped veterans address their PTSD.

“My inspiration came from VVA’s motto, ‘Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another,’” Kucharewski said. “I wanted to welcome all veterans and offer them the peace and serenity that comes from fishing. Their interaction with each other provides mutual support. Getting outdoors is great therapy.”

The program became so successful that Kucharewski was asked to talk about it at a National Therapeutic Recreation Conference in Florida and a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Conference in Ohio.

Raul Cordeaux, a local fisherman who established a New Jersey chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, credits Kucharewski and Chapter 12 with advancing his program. Healing Waters targets disabled veterans with physical and emotional challenges.

Recently, Kucharewski met Sgt. Robert Frake of the New Jersey State Police Marine Service Bureau. Frake was looking to do something for veterans. “After talking to Greg, we decided to go with a barbeque and fishing at the station,” Frake said. “We brought in twenty-three vets and gave them rides on our patrol fast boats. I feel empathy for these guys, and we’re looking to expand this next year.”

The chapter’s program has continued to expand. Kucharewski recently took a widowed veteran to a local airfield. He had been referred to Rich Thomas, the airport supervisor, who was interested in doing something with vets and aviation.

“I was doing maintenance on a helicopter and offered the two of them a ride,” Thomas said. “When we got back I noticed Greg grinning. He said that this was their welcome home. That struck me and we talked about doing something for the vets, especially those with PTSD or disabilities. We wanted to get them involved in aviation activities with the aim of getting them into treatment groups.”

Chapter members helped organize an event with Thomas, and within two weeks the first LZ64 program was reality (named after Hanger 64, where the planes are stored). Seventy-three veterans attended and volunteer pilots donated their time and planes. A helicopter was provided for the day. In addition, a barbeque was set up and support services for PTSD made available. LZ 64 will hold a seven-state fly-in next May.

The most recent chapter involvement was the “Kids Wishing to Go Fishing” picnic. Vito Cardinale, a local businessman, donated his property and private lake for a day of fishing and food. Originally targeting vets, the event included disabled and special needs children.

Kucharewski said that veterans with PTSD and physical disabilities were providing support for disabled children—and vice versa. “You had to see the look on their faces,” he said. “We have come full circle; vets helping children and children helping vets.”

For information on Chapter 12’s program, contact Greg Kucharewski at gkucharews@aol.com or vva12p@verizon.net.





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