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Warrior's Weekend kicks off Saturday with 260 wounded soldiers in Port O'Connor

By JR Ortega
May 22, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.

Darryl Lesak offloads a bucket of fish from a guide boat for the weigh-in at Warriors Weekend in Port O'Connor.

U.S. DEATHS IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM

2004 - 486

2005 - 849

2006 - 46

2007 - 904

2008 - 314

2009 - 149

2010 - 16

**Statistics are as current as of March 29, 2010 and are compiled by the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index.

At 89 years old, Lurlyn Whitley can remember almost everything about the older brother she lost in action during World War II.

Saturday was no exception.

As 260 wounded soldiers plus their families, exited off 11 tour buses for the Warrior's Weekend fishing event in Port O'Connor, all the memories of Whitley's favorite sibling, PFC Boyd Scott Dunbar, sailed back into her mind.

"I hope to live at least 10 more years so I can see this again," said Whitley as she watched the boats ready for their fishing companions. "I wouldn't take anything else for this."

One by one, some in wheelchairs or crutches and others walking, the men and women marched down toward the dock near Froggie's Bait Dock.

It's a beautiful sight and the whole reason Whitley, of Victoria, likes to come out, she said.

Though her brother never really came back, these soldiers have, and she is going to do anything she can to support them, she said.

"I don't cry anymore," said Whitley about her brother as she held the American flag proudly. "During his time here on earth, he was a wonderful person."

Before the tour buses arrived, Zechary Gray and his wife, Rose, and 13-year-old daughter, Mica, were already out with one of the boaters catching some fish.

Burns on Gray, and on several of the other soldiers who headed out, required them to be out as early as possible to avoid any sunburn or damage to their sensitive skin.

Gray, an E4 in the U.S. Army, has the felt pain since an Iraqi generator blew up in his face in February 2008.

However, Saturday was different and much needed, he said.

"I felt at peace," said Gray, a smile flashing across his face after his early morning fishing trip. "It made me feel happy. I was especially happy because I caught a fish."

Gray's bright smile and lively glow was deeper than the minimal and extensive scars and burns on the face and arms of the 35-year-old San Antonio man.

The boat trip became a friendly competition for Gray and his daughter, said his wife.

"It was awesome to have the three of us in the water and fishing, and the fact that they had a competition going on and she won was good," she said.

His wife's comment sparked a playful argument that his daughter may have caught the first fish, but he caught the largest.

In the end, Warrior's Weekend is about one thing, Gray said.

"Being out here, this gives hope and inspiration," he said.

Howard Mitte, one of the boaters, waited for the tour buses to come in to take some wounded soldiers out for a good time.

Mitte volunteered at the first Warrior's Weekend, he said.

This was his second time and he does it for one reason only, he said.

"We're just showing appreciation for these servicemen and women and the sacrifices they make," he said as he docked his boat.

As a man was lowered on a wheelchair ramp, several men yelled out "hoorah," a spirited military cry.

It's a sound Warrior's Weekend president Ron Kocian looks forward to hearing each year.

"It's all kind of emotions," he said. "It's disappointing that it will soon be over."

But beginning Sunday, one thing is for sure: the fourth annual Warrior's Weekend will be underway, he said.

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