Un(L)abashed Admiration For Wounded Warriors

The Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash is proudly loutish in many ways (see anything from his Standard piece Down with Facebook! to his regular Ask Matt Labash columns for the Daily Caller), but, man, can he write.

Exhibit Umpteen: His latest WS cover story, Semper Fly. From the lede:

[I]f you spend enough time on the water, you will meet all kinds of fishermen who are dropouts and ne’er-do-wells, men bent on cheating time and ducking out of the world. But you will meet very few hopeless fishermen. For fishing forces optimism even into the soul-sick and the beaten. As the Scottish novelist John Buchan said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

And so last month, I came [to Bozeman, Montana] to meet an outfit of hope merchants, led by a retired Marine colonel, Eric Hastings, cofounder and head of Warriors and Quiet Waters. Since 2007, Hastings and his merry band of 276 guides, drivers, cooks, board members, and volunteers​—​nobody is paid, including him​—​carry out a mission that is simply stated: “to employ the therapeutic and rehabilitative qualities of fly fishing for trout on Montana’s rivers and streams to help heal traumatically wounded U.S. servicemen and women.” Hastings elaborates: “I know what it’s like to be in combat, and I also know that semper fi​—​always faithful​—​is more than just a slick motto. You can’t just walk off into the sunset. This is an honor contract between Americans and the people who were sent to war in their name. It’s about serving your fellow warriors.”

Labash proceeds to chronicle the soothing powers of fly fishing on a group of servicemen damaged – physically and psychically – by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s classic Labash, who has a soft spot for men (always men) who’ve gone through traumatic circumstances – Hurricane Katrina, the disintegration of Detroit, post-earthquake Haiti – and come through not whole, not intact.

Oh, yes – and Fallujah: 

 Securing Fallujah after it had been turned into an insurgent funhouse was the bloodiest work of the Iraq war​—​confusing and ferocious house-to-house combat. In one month alone​—​the month Richard [Gonzalez] was injured​—​70 Americans were killed and 609 wounded. “We were in the middle of a platoon-sized element firefight,” says Richard. “I’ve never been in a scarier situation in my life.”

It started out a calm enough morning. Richard remembers eating blackberry jam on a cracker. But when word came that another unit was pinned down, his guys joined the fight. When they arrived, Richard says, “It felt like that street was a mile long. Not only were you fighting insurgents, but they had every street hooked up. They weren’t even hiding IEDs. Wired up right in the open. Bullets flying through the sides of Humvees. S—t’s hitting me in my face. I normally run around with 50 lbs. of C-4, a rocket, and all my gear too. I dropped it all, picked up magazines, loaded up, and me and my gunner, we just continued to fight. Run and gun.”

Richard was shot multiple times, catching a round in the Kevlar, one in his arm, and three in his back. He kept fighting. “We didn’t have a choice. There was nowhere to go,” he says. “There was no getting medevacked. They were throwing grenades at their own guys trying to kill them so we couldn’t get intel.” Even after his injuries, he never left until his deployment ended, two months later. I express awe. “My buddy got four Purple Hearts and a Navy Cross, and he never got sent home,” says Richard. “What’s a guy gotta do to go home these days?” I ask. “Die,” Richard says.

Labash has a way of drawing people out that makes for compelling narratives.

You really should read them.

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