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Bradenton Elks Lodge 1511 hopes to make fishing trip for veterans a regular event

BRADENTON -- John Kormendy doesn't hear too well, can't see too well and needs a walker to get around. Yet the 93-year-old World War II artillery veteran hasn't stopped smiling lately.

The recent inshore fishing trip sponsored by Bradenton Elks Lodge 1511 for area veterans is why.

"For days now anytime someone comes by, Dad goes, 'Did I tell you I went fishing?'" daughter Judy Gainer said. "He had a blast."

So did Paul Wukits and Tom Peterson, former U.S. Marines who served in Vietnam.

They were among eight veterans, young and old, who spent about four hours fishing for redfish, snook and amberjack aboard five charter boats in the Manatee River and Terra Ceia Bay, courtesy of the Elks, who held a fish fry afterward.

"It was fantastic -- caught my first snook ever," said Wukits, 66, a former ground crewman at Da Nang Air Base. "They treated us like royalty for what we did. You don't get a lot of that anymore."

Peterson, 64, appreciated the day of fishing for the same reason. He's on full disability.

"The best thing about it was just the idea people remembered," the former infantryman said. "It was nice to be around other veterans and someone who cared and got me out of my daily routine."

That was the idea when the Elks announced the fishing trip earlier this summer. Thanks to an Elks National Foundation Grant, private donations and the participation of charter captains and volunteers, the day was a hit with the former servicemen.

"We hear about it all the time, but this was a real way to say thanks to our veterans," Elks organizer Mike Dinius

said. "It felt good to be able to do it for them, because you could see it by the expressions on their faces."

Along with fellow charter Capts. Mike Greig, Rick Gross, Jason Ramsey and Ryan Shannon, Allan Engel said the day was mutually enjoyable and illuminating.

"People like me take (fishing daily) for granted," he said. "So to share this, especially with those who have had experiences I never will, it was awesome."

Dinius said the Elkswant to make this an annual event at least, perhaps bi-annual or even quarterly.

"I know I would like do it more," Engel said.

So would the veterans.

"Can't wait," Wukits said.

That also goes for family members such as Kormendy's daughter, his caretaker.

"I was a little appre-hensive at first, because I'm leaving my dad with strangers," Judy Gainer said. "But everybody was so nice and they took such good care of him. I can't say enough about them. I'm so grateful for what they did."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix