Hunting with heroes: Combat-wounded veterans participate in weekend pheasant hunt
The 86-year-old Korean War veteran didn’t have much interest in guns for decades after the war, but when the opportunity arose recently for Stawasz to travel to South Dakota to give pheasant hunting a try, he jumped at the chance, if only figuratively.
“I am really excited,” he said. “I went on YouTube and got a couple of lessons on how to hunt the pheasants, so I’ll be OK. I really like YouTube.”
On Friday afternoon, eight combat-wounded veterans, including Stawasz, from across the country filed into Cabela’s to obtain hunting licenses so they could spend the weekend in the fields, during a trip sponsored by the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation.
This weekend’s all expenses paid event in Plankinton will host the eight veterans for a four-day guided pheasant hunt. The men’s injuries sustained in battle range in severity, as some have limited mobility and others sustained traumatic brain injuries and permanent limb disabilities.
Stawasz, a Nebraska native, spent several years growing up watching his older relatives hunt, but didn’t get involved, which he regretted for a long time.
He doesn’t talk much about his time in the war, but proudly wears a hat adorned with pins and buttons signifying his service. And the sharp-minded, witty elder was thankful for the opportunity to participate in a South Dakota pheasant hunt.
“Oh, this is just so amazing, the opportunity is something I wouldn’t have ever expected,” Stawasz said. “It makes me feel real good.”
The objective of the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation is to provide combat-wounded Purple Heart recipients the opportunity to enjoy American outdoor pastimes. The organization has sponsored bear hunts, fishing trips and pheasant hunting trips, which generally take place in South Dakota.
Based in Florida, other events sponsored by the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation this year include a moose hunt in Alberta, Canada, an archery deer hunt in Pennsylvania, a fishing trip in St. Louis, Missouri, and more.
Participants are split into several small groups, and spend three to five days together, participating in activities many believed were no longer possible due to injuries sustained in the line of duty.
But there are mental benefits, too.
“I think, most importantly, the trips allows them to talk about some of the issues they typically can’t talk about in their day-to-day lives,” event host Brad Boisen said. “I’d say about 80 to 90 percent have some level of (post traumatic stress disorder) and they’re dealing with real issues.”
Several years ago, Boisen’s wife, Julie, was riding on a plane when she became embroiled in conversation with a fellow passenger. Julie told the man the Boisens were searching for a cause to become involved with, and the man suggested the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation. Shortly after, Boisen called the founder and the couple has been involved ever since, hosting several events, including South Dakota pheasant hunts and guided fishing trips in Galveston, Texas.
The Boisens own a hunting lodge near Plankinton, but currently live in Texas.
For the Boisens, the ability to positively impact “American heroes’ ” lives keeps them coming back to host more events.
And Boisen feels it’s one way to give back to veterans who risked their lives to provide his freedoms.
“When I was at that point in my life making directional choices for life, I had the opportunity to serve, but I decided not to. I’ve never worn the uniform and I’ve never put my life at risk,” he said. “If I was to have a regret, that’s probably one of them, but I have an undying regard for the men and women who have sacrificed and served and put their lives in harm’s way … If it wasn’t for them, it’d be a different world.”
The eight men participating in the weekend hunt are: Marco Dominguez, Colorado; Logan Thompson, Texas; Todd Brannon, Florida; Larry Campbell, Florida; Richard Sanchez, Colorado; Len Stawasz, Colorado; Jon French, Michigan; and Jake Whipkey, Pennsylvania.