Operation Open Arms founder Capt. John Bunch of Pine Island likes telling stories about the U.S. servicemen and women and their families that he has taken on fishing trips over the years.
When one of his OOA charter captains, who he has never met in person, recently suffered a heart attack he couldn't keep from telling yet another story, this time about one of his own.
Captain Roy Bennett of Cape Coral has been one of OOA's trusted and reliable charter guides for about six years. Retired from the New York Police Department, Bennett was in the middle of taking a coronary stress test when he had his heart attack. He is now recuperating at home and resuming his charters aboard Hot One II.
Capt. Roy Bennett of Cape Coral received this flag and certificate of authenticity from an Army sergeant flying helicopter medivac missions in Afghanistan in gratitude for an Operation Open Arms fishing charter last April.
"I've heard nothing but praise and good things from servicemen and sponsors about Captain Roy," said Bunch. "He has received many tokens of appreciation from soldiers he has helped serving in Afghanistan and other combat zones."
Bennett received an American Flag from a soldier in Afghanistan that flew on a Blackhawk helicopter flying medivac missions. The flag came accompanied by a certificate of authenticity photograph of the unit and Army Sgt. Gaston Garcia's letter of appreciation.
"I took him on a tarpon charter in April," said Bennett. "He caught a 100-pound tarpon. He was thrilled just as much as I was."
The certificate of authenticity states the flag flew on 15 missions and more than 30 hours of medivac operations.
"I went out and got a frame for the certificate and for the flag and it is in my living room now," Bennett said. "I got all choked up and had goosepimples when I read it. It makes me feel good every time I look at it."
Bennett has taken 26 military OOA charter trips and many resulted in tokens of appreciation, such as shoulder patches, unit photographs, T-shirts, Iraq and Afghanistan money, as well as rare service medallions.
"Bennett never served in the military and I think that is the reason he contributes to OOA," said Bunch. "I think he realized that the next best thing to serving is by giving back to the troops through OOA."
Operation Open Arms provides fishing trip vacations and even weddings to U.S. military personnel home on leave from foreign combat zones and military outposts. A network of more than 60 charter captains in Florida and Maryland are backed financially by a stable of sponsors, donors and contributors eager to support our troops whether they have served themselves or not.
"I am extremely grateful that (Bennett) made it through and can return to taking Operation Open Arms chartersagain," said Bunch. "He has been a real asset to us and plays an important and generous part in taking troops on fishing trips."