David Defelice's eyes light up when he talks about his passion. He is the event coordinator for an annual fishing weekend for wounded veterans held at Cypremort Point. His organization, Wounded War Heroes of Louisiana, offers this kind of recreation for men and women wounded in combat throughout the state all year. David recalls, “In 2014, I was watching a hunting channel program about wounded warriors on a hunting trip. I said to myself, ‘We could do this in Louisiana.’ So I called a friend and we started looking into it.”
When Defelice researched the Wounded Warrior Project, he was dismayed to find out that much of the money donated to that organization never makes it to projects for veterans, with marketing, administration and salaries taking up a sizable percentage.
He knew he wanted to do better. He got in touch with David Cresson of the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, and Cresson told him of Wounded War Heroes of Louisiana.
Wounded War Heroes - The Beginning
Wounded War Heroes of Louisiana started in 2009, when Michael Savoie, a medically retired wounded Marine, met Emeric Watson, the founder of Wounded War Heroes at a hunting event in Pachuta, Mississippi. Listening to Emeric’s fishing adventure stories around the campfire, Michael asked what it would cost to take a group of 20 military men and women to south Louisiana for a weekend of fishing. That started the wheels in Emeric’s brain to spin. He called his father and brother-in-law the next day and they decided to ask family and friends to donate to make the trip happen.
They received an overwhelming response, and Wounded War Heroes was founded. They set the date for the first WWH fishing rodeo at the Delta Marina in Buras, and the organization has grown from there to several events throughout the state each year.
A great fit
This organization appealed to Defelice because all board members are volunteers, no one draws a salary, and because of that, 98-percent of all donations return to the projects for the veterans they serve. In order to qualify for membership, veterans must be post-9/11 combat, and either have a Purple Heart or a service-connected Veterans Administration rating of at least 50 percent. All members must be recommended by an active member, sponsor or board member of the organization.
The first fishing trip
The first trip that Defelice, his wife Susan, and their friends Tommy and Arlene Granger arranged was a three-day sojourn for 10 veterans to the Grangers’ camp on the Point. “We wined them and dined them. They had a blast, and we were amazed at the generosity of our local sponsors,” Defelice said.
Then it got bigger
The next year, they did a trip for 20. “I called 10 of my boat captain friends, and took everyone out. They donated their time and expertise for these men and women to go out into the bay and catch some fish,” he said. “It’s always wonderful to see what being outdoors does for our heroes. They just enjoy it so much and it helps a great deal in their recovery.”
Colette “Cootz” Foret, vice chairman of the organization, has attended several of the Cypremort Point fishing weekends, and she has high praise for Defelice and the events he puts on. “I have been at our events across the state, and Cypremort Point is unique. There’s a feeling of family and good times,” she said.
Family, friends, sponsors
Defelice raises money and in-kind donations for the trip, his friends help with cooking and fishing. Daughter Claire pitches in, taking photos. Sponsors provide food, drinks, and other necessities. Each veteran gets a shirt, a hat and a gift. Accommodations for the veterans are seen to, whether they may need a wheelchair or other device.
“These guys all know each other, whether from their service or from these events,” said Defelice. “I look forward to this event every year, they’re like family. The Wounded War Heroes has a database of approximately 250 heroes, and Cootz sends out invitations. I like to have five of the folks who have been on the trip before to kind of orient the new group, help them know the rules, the flow of the weekend.”
This year’s Cypremort Point Fishing Weekend is coming up Aug. 13-15. “We couldn’t have an event in 2020, because of COVID. This year, there are 21 vets coming. We’re going to have a great time.” Defelice thanks all of his local sponsors, and stresses that there is always room for more. “If businesses or individuals want to donate to this cause, I encourage them to do so. We can never say thank you enough to these men and women who have given so much for their country.”