With a welcoming party fit for heroes, 10 recovering wounded soldiers arrived on the Vineyard Sunday afternoon for a weeklong stay in the fifth annual American Heroes Saltwater Challenge.

The soldiers and their families will compete in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby this week. The challenge is hosted by the Nixon family, who own the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn and Home Port restaurant in Chilmark.

The soldiers were met by Vineyard war veterans, representatives from five Island town emergency personnel, State Police and a gaggle of children waiving flags and holding welcome banners. Ed Rodgers played America the Beautiful on the trumpet as the first soldiers disembarked the airplane.

The group was met with a large applause and some tears as they made their way to the bus that would take them to the Beach Plum Inn, where they will be staying for the remainder of their trip.

It was also a homecoming of sorts for a few soldiers who have participated in the Saltwater Challenge before, including Lt. Nathan Rimpf and Sgt. Monte Bernardo, Staff Sargent Carla Hockaday and Senior Airman Emanuel Thompson. Mr. Thompson caught a 34.72 pound derby-leading striper on his visit to the Island in 2011.

Siblings and junior derby veterans Grady and Allie Keefe offered fishing advice to the newcomers.

Grady recommended fishing off of Squibnocket and using eels and pogies for bait.

“Pogies are best off the floating dock [in Menemsha] but only after 2 p.m.,” he said.

“You have to have a positive attitude,” said Allie. “And patience.”


For more photos, see the gallery Soldiers Arrive for Saltwater Heroes Challenge.