Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation

Wounded Warriors embraced on deer hunt in Elbert County

Online Athens

Three men wounded in Middle East wars traveled to Elberton last weekend to hunt deer, but found themselves in a small community that embraced them as heroes.

The hunting trip was arranged by the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation, which provides hunting and fishing opportunities for Purple Heart recipients.

“The hunt was excellent. … I’ve lived in Georgia off and on since 1972 and I went to the University of Georgia, but I had never been to Elberton and what a neat community,” said U.S. Army Ranger Col. Dixon Gunther, a representative of the foundation, who joined the soldiers on the trip. “I have never seen a more generous outpouring from a community.”

The nonprofit WWIA Foundation, headquartered in Apollo Beach, Fla., has provided hunting and fishing experiences for hundreds of combat veterans since it was formed in 2007, Gunther said.

The trip to Elbert County was hosted by Slabco International Granite and Marble.

“It’s something we wanted to do, but with that being said, there were so many volunteers and so many people involved that it was really a community effort,” Slabco co-owner David Dye said. “We had so many people call and offer places to hunt, hanging deer stands and offering meals.”

These former soldiers taking part in the hunt hailed from Tennessee, Texas and Missourri. Each were wounded during combat in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This was the first father-son event we have done, so each of the Purple Heart recipients brought their sons with them,” said Gunther, who lives in Auburn, Ala.

Last Friday night, the soldiers attended the Elbert County High School football game.

“I haven’t been to a high school football game since I was in high school,” said Gunther, who was impressed by the football fans welcome for the soldiers. The high school’s ROTC unit provided a saber arch as the solders walked onto the field, where they were introduced prior to the National Anthem.

On Saturday morning, they went deer hunting, then were treated to dinner that evening by the local Elks Club, which gave the foundation a $1,000 donation. In addition, T-shirts with the Wounded Warrior logs were sold as a fundraiser in the community.

They ventured into the woods again on Sunday morning.

“We had several farms that I’ve hunted and grew up on all my life,” Dye said about the places they hunted.

The hunters took seven deer on the hunt.

“They all had deer in front of them and that was our main objective,” Dye said. “When I signed up for it, I told the guy I wasn’t promising anything but a good time. I think we achieved that goal. The deer was a bonus.”

A turkey hunt for another group of soldiers is planned for the spring, he said.

Dye saw how the people of Elbert County stepped up when it came to being guests to the men who served overseas in combat.

“I couldn’t be any (more proud) of my community,” he said. “As small as we may be, they never cease to amaze me when it comes to helping someone in need. They always come through.”

The soldiers enjoyed the hunt, said Gunther, a career military man who could feel a sense of community pride in this rural county.

“The thing about being in the Army or service is you’re moving all the time. I moved 17 times in 25 years and until very recently hadn’t been anywhere longer than two to three years,” he said.

But in Elbert County, Gunther found people, who like blocks of granite, had anchored their lives in one place.

“I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “It was a tremendous outpouring of support from David and his friends and the entire Elbert community. It was overwhelming.”