QUINCY -- Raymond Kennedy, an airman for 22 years, had been on the sidelines of the annual Fishing for Freedom event for years before deciding to participate this year.
He reeled in a small catfish on Sunday, but his biggest catch during the weekend was the connections he made with veterans like himself.
"Probably the best part of this weekend was meeting people," the Quincy resident said. "Earlier I spoke with a 95-year-old World War II veteran, and hearing his personal experience from that time period was neat. Just hearing about veterans' experiences from different wars and conflicts has been so informative."
Sid Schaller, a Camp Point native, agreed.
"Each year it's great to get together with other veterans and share in the brotherhood," he said. "A lot of the boaters are veterans, too, so it's been nice to talk with them also."
The men were two of about 300 veterans from across the region and United States who attended the three-day catfish, crappie and bass fishing competition held on the Mississippi River and different sites in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri. This year marks the eighth year for the event and a record number of participants.
"This is one of the few things I look forward to every year. Each time it's phenomenal," Paul Adekoya, a Marine from the Peoria area, said. "It's amazing to see all of the support here given to veterans, and it's the one time each year I get to see the guys I served with."
Added Marine Brian Burks, also from Peoria: "Being veterans, it means a lot to see so much support for us. Quincy has shown us a lot of support. This is my third or fourth year coming down for Fishing for Freedom, and each time, it's a great time to hang out and meet new people."
Randy Gengenbacher, coordinator of the local Fishing for Freedom, previously told The Herald-Whig that the event is expected to become the largest Fishing for Freedom event in the nation either this year or next year.
A similar Fishing for Freedom near Fort Hood, Texas, draws about the same number of participants as the Quincy event.