When Randy Houston saw his brother off to Vietnam, he was just 7 years old. The brother that came back was not who Randy remembered. “He was combat wounded twice and was missing body parts due to a grenade.” But there was more than physical parts of his brother missing. Years passed before the two rekindled a relationship and by then Randy watched in pained silence as his brother’s life was slowly slipping away from the ravages of Agent Orange cancers and diabetes.
In 2009 Randy’s brother, Sgt Jerry E. Houston was inducted into the Arizona Veteran Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife waited eagerly in the audience for his brother’s name to be called. When Sgt Jerry E. Houston’s name was called and he walked into the room he was “a little taller, a little stronger, a little more of everything. I knew then I wanted to do something for veterans. Something to make them feel that proud, that strong and that honored.”
Randy racked his brain and pitched the idea to his brother of taking him and some of his other Purple Heart friends hunting. His brother explained that they were getting up in years and with the heat and all they would much prefer a nice fishing trip.
Within a few days Randy had a boat all stocked and ready to go to take his brother and his friends out fishing. “There were at least 10 of them. I knew what I was doing was right.” On that day the Purple Heart Anglers was born.
In 2010 Randy, trying to raise funds for more fishing trips for disabled vets, had a table set up in front of Bass Pro Shop in Manteca. Doug McArthur, a fishing aficionado and licensed guide, stopped by the table to find out what Randy was all about. “Just as he and I began talking” said Randy “a veteran approached me and wanted to learn more. I told him we take disabled veterans fishing. He asked where he could sign up. Doug piped in and said ‘I have a fishing boat, I’ll take you this weekend.’ After that trip Doug was bitten by the Purple Heart Anglers bug and couldn’t wait to take more vets out fishing.”
Chris Masselas and Doug McArthur
“I loved to fish and I had a boat ” said Doug about that fateful day, not knowing it would change the direction of his life.
For Doug, his first day fishing with a veteran was a very moving day. He not only took the disabled veteran but also his son who was to be deployed to the Middle East the following week. “It was so much fun. No thoughts, no cares, he spent the day with his dad and was ready to face what was coming. I knew I wanted to be part of this.”
Within two months Doug had his first PHA veteran adventure with Vietnam Veteran Ron Keffer.
Doug and Ron hit it off immediately.
Two months prior, Doug had lost his Uncle, a Vietnam Vet who never spoke of his experiences, but was a major influence in Doug’s life. Doug and Ron bonded quickly. Ron pulled no punches when he spoke and chose to put the past behind him. With PHA “I found myself another Uncle. In fact, since I have been doing this for four years, I have found many Uncles.”
Now that Doug is immersed in the PHA organization he finds he is meeting veterans from every walk of life and touching lives in a way that he never thought possible, “Just by fishing. I am making a difference in their lives and they are making an impact on mine.”
Always looking for volunteers and people who are on the same path, Doug, working a Tuesday evening at Bass Pro just to keep his head in the game met San Andreas resident Chris Masselas.
Chris, with a little money burning a hole in his pocket, went shopping at Bass Pro and ran into Doug in the fishing department. “I was looking at poles and couldn’t decide. Doug told me he would take me fishing that weekend and I could try out some of his poles to see which one I liked. I showed up to meet him and it was a Purple Heart Anglers event. Next thing you know I was on a boat with Doug and a disabled vet. The vet told his story of his experience fishing and I was hooked. I knew they needed funding to keep this program going so I thought I could get a dinner going.” And a dinner he did.
With the help of his girlfriend Cayla Pebley the two hosted the first Purple Heart Anglers Tri-tip and chicken in a barrel dinner fundraiser in San Andreas in 2013 feeding over 150 people. The event grew so large that when Chris and Cayla hosted the 2014 fund raising event they fed over 230 people. “It’s a lot of work” said Chris. But he hopes that with more fund raising events there may be more opportunities for Calaveras County disabled veterans to experience a Purple Heart Anglers day.
A typical fishing outing with PHA is a day long. The licenses, insurance and boats are supplied by the Purple Heart Anglers and volunteers. While the veterans are out fishing, some volunteers stay back at camp and start with the cooking. After a day on the lake fishing the veterans are then treated to a home cooked meal, courtesy of the Purple Heart Anglers.
What these volunteers do is not all for naught as veteran after veteran I have spoken with speaks about their experience and their love of the adventures with Purple Heart Anglers.
Ron Keller summed it up nicely by saying, “It is such a compliment for us to have the Purple Heart Anglers who really care about veterans. Who really do things to make the vets lives so much more enjoyable… what a joy to know there really is someone who cares.”
Randy steadfastly holds to his motto for PHA, “We hunt, fish, and eat.” Hoping to reach out to more veterans with more fishing and hunting events he says, “Our primary vision is the vets, we’ll come up with the money somehow” to continue their events.
For more information on the Purple Heart Anglers and their events visit http://www.purpleheartanglers.org/.