Veterans honored with ‘Day on the Water’ event in Brookville

BROOKVILLE — U.S. Army veteran Bill Kellman was wary.

After hearing about Project Healing Waters, a program which aids in the rehabilitation of disabled veterans through fly fishing outings, he wasn't sure if it was for him.

At the time he learned of the program, Kellman, a Vietnam vet, said he struggled with socializing.

"If my wife were here, she would tell you I never got out of the house," he said. "I would just stay home because I didn't like dealing with people. I had no friends, I had nobody I wanted in my life except my wife."

But he took a chance, and since he became involved with Healing Waters, his life has changed for the better.

"You get out here, and everyone has something in common," Kellman said. "You get out here, and it sort of just opens you up. And you meet these guys that are putting on the event, and they're wonderful, as well as the other vets."

Last Saturday, the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited held a day on the water for disabled veterans at the Dr. Walter Dick Memorial Park in Brookville.

The event was held in cooperation with Healing Waters, a non-profit organization established to help veterans heal through fly tying and fly casting classes and fly fishing events.

"I feel safe with the other vets," Kellman said. "And they probably feel the same thing. For somebody who's been in that situation, it's nice to feel safe for a change."

Fifteen veterans from western New York, Erie and Pittsburgh attended the all day event, which began last Saturday morning with an opening ceremony.

The ceremony was attended by local boy scouts, members of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Brookville Mayor David "Chip" Wonderling.

The commission provided the veterans with fly fishing equipment for the day, and each veteran was paired with a Trout Unlimited member to learn the basics of fly fishing.

The stream was also stocked with more than 500 trout, donated by Potter County Anglers and the Toby Creek Watershed Association.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to come back and give to the vets who have given to our country, and to introduce them to a lifelong sport that they can continue to do," Amidea Daniel, North Central Region education specialist with the Fish and Boat Commission said. "It's a great way for us to get out here and share what we can do with folks who have already helped us with our freedom."

Ray Markiewicz, Northeast Coordinator for Project Healing Waters said fly fishing has a "healing and therapeutic" quality.

The fly fishing outings provide veterans with friendship and bonding, he said, and it's a "special" experience the veterans will remember for years to come.

Kellman agreed.

He has had experience working in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) programs before his retirement, and now wholeheartedly believes in the kind of therapy Project Healing Waters is all about.

"I know what therapy is and this is what this program is doing," Kellman said. "It's opening guys up like talk therapy never has."

He originally became involved in Project Healing Waters as a participant, but now also volunteers his time, and visits various veterans' hospitals to teach fly tying and fly casting.

"I help the guys tie flies, and it's nice to seem them open up because they said they've never done anything like this either, and it's great to be able to introduce them to this program," he said. "I've had a couple guys I talked into coming on one of these weekends. It felt good."

Kellman is well aware of how difficult it can be to introduce the program to some veterans, because he was once apprehensive.

"It's very difficult to get people to come out to this," he said. "There are a lot of Vietnam vets, like me, who haven't left the house in years, and who haven't done anything, and they don't want to, and they get anxious. We have guys that cancel at the last minute because they can't go through with it — it's difficult for them. But we keep trying and they come back. I've seen the changes in them, and it's just amazing."