Three Ladies and Some Grateful Veterans “…the VA saved my life”.

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By: Joe D’Amore – July 16, 2018

This is what a veteran explained to me along with lots of heartfelt details about his life on a recent fishing trip organized by Dick George of 101st Airborne Division Association of Newburyport.   Mr George collaborated with several wonderful organizations to fill a fishing boat that cast off Plum Island  for a special day of comraderie, fishing and the good fortune of whale watching and dolphin sigthings.  It was the first , annual Homeless Veteran’s Fishing Trip.     Bedford VA, NE Center & Home, Boston , Northeast Veteran’s Outreach, Haverhill and Merrimack Valley Hope Mission, Groveland  provided organizational support, coordination & rides for everyone.  
Many of the veteran’s on board, either currently or in the past,  fit one of the 3 categories of homelessness;  unsheltered ( living outdoors) , sheltered( living in overnight/emergency shelters) or transitionally sheltered ( a wide variety of federally subsidized housing arrangements) .  Many of the men were combat veterans while others had non combat service delivered  all over the world.  Some were fresh from deployment .   Almost everyone was wounded in some way with most of those wounds invisible.  Scars ran deep in this crowd- in either a physical or intangible realm-  and yet everyone engaged in meaningful conversation downplayed those scars and declared  their love for this country.    You had the strong impression here that nobody had any regrets. 
There were numerous sponsors and the most notable were  The Haverhill Breakfast Exchange , Two Guys Smoke Shop, Manzi- Bonanno- Bowers( Atty’s), Salem Co-Operative, Salem Five Cents Savings Bank,  Comfort Home Care, Methuen and  NESC Credit Union     These  organizations made an early entry to provide the  necessary funding and extras like bus rides
Additionally, there  were  three very special ” ladies” behind the scenes that made this first trip a success.  The owners, Captain and crew members of Captain’s Lady II, Newburyport/ Plum Island provided extra special attention and a professional deference to the veterans.  And two  women – who generally avoid the limelight like the plague- were the greatest, silent  forces behind this effort with their flawless organization and delivery.  Jillian Harmon, an Community Outreach Specialist for (VNOC) Veteran’s Northeast Outreach Center, Haverhill promoted the event and tied-in other regional organizations to expand participation.  
 And Katie Cook of Salem NH, masterfully promoted sponsorship.  She , along with her family and the sponsors she garnered helped ensure that the participants were delighted to a special day at no cost to them as a way of saying THANK YOU.
As the Captain’s Lady II turned towards  sea, Katie & Jillian waved from the dock and the final send off was commandeered by Paul Hogg, the Harbor Master of Newburyport, guiding the party boat past the breakwaters.   Paul and his family have been steadfast advocates for veterans for at least a generation 
This event was a unique opportunity  to celebrate not only the men in attendance who have sacrificed so much in the service  to our nation, but also some pretty amazing people who quietly serve with distinction those who are most deserving. 
Joe D’Amore is the founder of Merrimack Valley Hope Mission
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