They were road weary and worn out from a wild weekend away, but also rejuvenated in ways only they can truly comprehend.
“We all became good friends from the instant we met,” said Jesse Allerdings. “There’s just something about being with these people that is so special.”
Allerdings is an Iraq War veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He would sweep enemy areas for weapons and explosives. At times he felt like a ticking time bomb with the anger and stress he brought back from war. He found it tough just to celebrate the 4th of July.
“As long as I was setting off the fireworks it was fine, but stuff going on around me I couldn't handle very well,” he said.
But there was a bit of welcome relief this past weekend. Bellingham businesses raised $10,000 to send 10 veterans to a "Hunting With Heroes" excursion in Klickitat County. They hunted pheasant, fished for salmon, ate barbecue and bonded as brothers.
“Everybody's been through the same thing,” said Allerdings. “It feels good just to be able to release some of what’s been bottled up for so long.”
As the group rolled back into Bellingham, kids from Carl Cozier Elementary School lined Lincoln Street waving American flags, and shouted, “thank you!” It was a hero's welcome that continued all afternoon. The convoy arrived at McNett Corporation, the main sponsor of the event.
Outside their headquarters, McNett workers and community groups paid tribute to the veterans. It was all a bit overwhelming both for the vets and those honoring them.
Chad Larsen broke down as he addressed the group. Larsen is a Desert Storm veteran who was a participant in the Hunting With Heroes event last year. He was so moved, he returned as a volunteer organizer this year.
“Only a veteran can know a veteran like this,” he said. “I'm at a loss for words. I just know we’re doing the right thing and others should be doing this, too.”
While it might seem more appropriate to recognize the warriors on Veteran's Day or the Fourth of July, the message organizers want to send is that the vets are appreciated every day.
It was an experience Jesse Allerdings said will stay with him long after the wounds of war have healed.
“I’ll never forget this. It definitely restores a little faith in humanity.”