Profiles of Courage

They come looking for adventure, excitement, travel, challenge — the reasons that bring some fishermen to the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby are the same reasons some soldiers give for joining the military. But for those men and women who have been at the adrenaline-drenched war front, it is a long and welcome way to the quiet waters of Martha’s Vineyard, where the battle is with the fish.

Here they can find serenity, as one veteran noted after fishing this week as part of the Beach Plum Inn American Heroes Saltwater Challenge. He uses a wheelchair after a roadside bomb — an improvised explosive device, they call it — brought him from Afghanistan to Walter Reed Medical Center with his leg broken in eighteen places. This week he fished alongside a former Army Ranger who lost both hands trying to disarm a booby trap in Viet Nam and yet has become a certified kayak instructor and water skier, a snow skier and a cyclist.

The fishing, the friendship, the absence of anything to fear: this is a place and a program with much to offer men and women who have given more than they expected to in service to the country. The dirty work of empire, the righteous fight for freedom: either way you look at it, American voters let the country go to wars for which these veterans, their colleagues and people far away will bear the trauma and scars.

Many residents and visitors find solace on this Island. It may be in the woods, meadows or beaches, or in the myriad detoxification programs, or on a boat in a calm sea. Always it is within a community that watches out for its own — for those who stand by us, whether we know each other personally or not. We owe gratitude to the veterans and to those Islanders who provide healing for them on our waters.