Bamboo Bend Project helps wounded warriors
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
While memories of lost comrades on the battlefield were on the mind of U.S. Marine Corps veteran Duke Davis, he was able to channel his attention toward building a custom bamboo fly rod last week.
A resident of Mount Eagle, Tennessee, Davis was among eight disabled military veterans who took part in the sixth annual Bamboo Bend Rod Building Project at the Lovells Township Community Center last week.
Davis said he was intrigued to take part in the workshop upon a referral of a friend, who told him that crafting a prized bamboo fly rod takes veterans to a higher mental state and away from other concerns.
For Davis, that included losing fellow Marines on the battlefield.
“In the back of my mind, I know it’s the anniversary for those two guys dying, but I’m not dwelling on that today,” Davis said. “I’m excited about the finished product of what this is going to be.”
Bamboo Bend, a locally organized and funded project which has the motto “Handcrafted Healing for Heroes,” brought the military veterans to the Grayling area for a nine-day stay.
The project is in a year of transition, moving from its founding place on the East Branch of the AuSable River to the Lovells Community Center, which is located near the North Branch of the AuSable River.
Mark Mackey, from Ashland, Wisconsin, who served 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantryman, also transitioned from becoming a student in the project last year to the president this year.
“I immediately said yes because this program profoundly impacted my life for the better, and it’s a way for me to give back to the veterans who have gone through many of the same things I have,” Mackey said.
Davis served 21 years in the military, including deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He strived to do more until health issues put a roadblock in his plans.
“I loved it,” he said. “I tried to do 30 years, but I had a stroke and I couldn’t stay any longer.”
Davis said he appreciated going back to the roots of fly rod building.
“I’ve built a bunch of rods, and I have a large desire to build rods, but this just took me to a new level,” Davis said. “It took me back to the way things used to be done and the craftsmanship that has to be done to do it.”
Steve Christopherson, of Alexandria, Virginia, who served in the U.S. Army as an Arabic linguist, said the workshop gives veterans a new sense of purpose.
“This is really special with some of the best talent in the bamboo rod maker community. It’s just been phenomenal,” he said. “The camaraderie that we have here and the instruction here are great. They’re passing on something. They’re giving everybody a new mission, especially the vets.”
Bob Delanoy of Frankfort, a Vietnam veteran who flew fighter bombers with the U.S. Marine Corps, said building the bamboo rods adds to peace he receives fishing and spending time in the woods.
“This occupies time and effort and also teaches serenity and attention to detail,” Delanoy said. “It’s very calming.”
Another Michigan veteran, Rob Beam, of Battle Creek, served in the U.S. Army during 1966-67 in Vietnam with a supply company.
“We were in some nasty country, but as I look back on the tour, I would go back and do it again if I had to do it,” Beam said.
Beam said working on his bamboo fly rod provided a sense of comfort.
“This is fabulous,” he said. “It takes your mind off of everything else, because you have to focus on everything that you’re doing.”
Mitch Dziduch, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who served as a communications sergeant with the U.S. Army’s Green Berets, enjoyed the scenic vistas and rivers in Crawford County.
“I love this area,” Dziduch said. “You guys have some beautiful country.”
Dale Aki, from Palmer, Alaska, which is located about 34 miles northeast of Anchorage, traveled the farthest to be in Grayling on a day-long flight. Aki served on Airborne Warning and Control System planes in the U.S. Airforce. He served on missions throughout the world for nearly two decades, including patrolling no-fly zones following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Aki said his wife appreciated that he was serving the county, but was nowhere near the frontlines.
“She enjoyed that comfort,” Aki said.
Aki said he appreciated the learning experience offered through the Bamboo Bend Project.
“It’s an ongoing learning curve,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity.”
Aki also commended Crawford County residents, businesses, and groups for their graciousness and hospitality.
“You can’t say enough about this place,” Aki said.
Dave Jankowski, of Traverse City, who has been building bamboo fly rods for 18 years, was among the number of instructors for the project. Jankowski served with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. He said serving as an instructor for the Bamboo Bend Project for the last four years is an extension of his community service.
“This is my passion. It’s a good thing to be able to give back to people, especially veterans. I appreciate what they’ve given to our country,” Jankowski said. “Any way that we can return just a little bit of that to them and help make their lives more enjoyable and more pleasant, I’m happy to be part of that.”
Dave Hellman, a rod builder from Ann Arbor, said he was grateful being able to pass on his knowledge to the veterans.
“It’s outstanding. You get to meet a bunch of very talented people who have helped us, and you get to listen to their stories and watch them grow,” Hellman said. “Working among them, the comradeship is fascinating.”
James Christian, from West Virginia, served as a tank mechanic and then as a criminal investigator in the U.S. Army. He said life-long friendships are forged between the instructors and the veterans.
“I’ve learned a lot, and I’m going to go away with some questions, but these guys said I can contact them with questions and whatever, and that will help,” he said.
The veterans last week stayed at the Oxbow Club, a private fishing club that was established on the South Branch of the AuSable River in 1919.
The veterans completed their stay in Grayling with float trips down the AuSable River and Manistee River with local river guides that were free of charge.
Mackey said project organizers and the veterans were grateful for the support.
“It’s just been overwhelming and phenomenal,” Mackey said. “It’s been a wonderful outpouring for this project and we couldn’t do it without the local support.”