By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Quincy native Derek Jennings is proud to see his hometown roll out the red carpet for more than 150 military veterans taking part in the fourth annual Fishing for Freedom this weekend.
Jennings served in the Army for 12 years and lost much of his left leg after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2012. He's one of the "warriors" the Fishing for Freedom committee wanted to honor by hosting a three-day event featuring fishing, trap shooting, food, music and comradeship.
Jennings, a 1996 graduate of Quincy Notre Dame High School, is now 35 and lives in Wyaconda, Mo. He comes to Fishing for Freedom each year because he realizes how important the event is to veterans -- and to those who host the event.
"They just want to give back to the soldiers," he said.
Jennings was among a large crowd on hand for Friday's Fishing for Freedom kickoff event -- a trap shoot and fish fry at the West Quincy Gun Club. The event provided an opportunity for the arriving veterans to socialize with the volunteers putting the event together, including those who donated the use of their boats for Sunday's fishing tournament.
The tournament will take place from 6 a.m. to noon on the Mississippi River and at Mark Twain Lake in Northeast Missouri. Saturday will be a pre-fishing day for the veterans so they can test out various fishing spots. The public is invited to Sunday's weigh-in, which starts at noon at Clat Adams Park.
One of those providing a boat for the weekend was Mark Davis of Quincy.
"I wanted to show respect for the men and women who have served our country," he said. "It's one small thing I can do to show our appreciation."
Dallas Emmons is grateful for the support. The 26-year-old former Marine from Tremont is one of 23 Marine veterans from the Peoria area who came to Quincy as a group to take part in Fishing for Freedom. Emmons said the hospitality shown by Quincyans blows him away.
"It's hard to find places where you get a whole community together like this," he said.
Emmons said the veterans not only have a great time during Fishing for Freedom, but they also make many "lifelong friendships."
Glenn Sanders, president of the organizing committee, said building friendships is a key part of the weekend.
"It's the one-on-one friendships -- and the way this community treats these guys and gals -- that makes this event so successful," he said.
The opportunity to salute U.S. military veterans is what prompted Brian Jackson to tow a bass boat 816 miles to Quincy from his home Texas. Jackson, an avid bass fisherman with a largemouth bass tattooed across his left forearm, said he can't wait to go fishing this weekend with some veterans.
"It's just an honor to be able to carry these guys out and do something I love to do," he said.
Jackson is one of four out-of-town volunteers staying at the home of Terry Jones of Quincy, a semi-pro bass fisherman who is providing a boat for the tournament. Jones said he got involved with Fishing for Freedom after he saw the outpouring of support expressed locally for veterans.
"I was really touched by it," he said.
One veteran got a head start practicing for Sunday's catfishing competition. Dustin Wiley of Taylorville, who served twice in Iraq with the Marines, won a drawing and got to go fishing Friday morning on the Mississippi at Alton with Ryan Casey, a nationally known catfishing expert.
"They caught 30-, 40-, 50-pound catfish all day long," Sanders said.
Wiley said it was an "insane" experience.
"All we caught were big ones," he said.
Wiley said he quit fishing early because his arms became too tired.