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Warriors across US bask in honor (video)

Camille Doty

By Camille Doty
May 19, 2012 at 12:19 a.m.

ABOVE: Sgt. Jessie Rice, left, and Staff Sgt. Tommy Trotter get their picture taken with their haul of fish after returning to the dock in Port O'Connor on Saturday. Rice, who was stationed in Fort Hood, retired two weeks ago, and Trotter is stationed at Camp Lejeune.

PORT O' CONNOR - Shane Parsons lost his ability to read, write and walk six years ago - but not his will to live.

The 26-year-old Fostoria, Ohio, native was struck by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Baghdad, and lost both his legs and went into cardiac arrest three times. The memory of the incident still remains.

Saturday afternoon, the retired staff sergeant in the U.S. Army put his past and pain behind to enjoy a hobby he loves - fishing.

During his stint in the choppy salt water, he had an adventure reeling in a little shark he caught. The war hero saved the fish from another shark wanting a piece of the catch. Parsons said his beloved prize makes him even cooler.

For the past five years, Parsons has participated in the weekend long festivities honoring soldiers because it's helped him to heal physically and mentally.

"I love Warrior's Weekend. There's no better place to be," he said.

As Parsons and other warriors arrived on the Port O'Connor shores, droves of supporters greeted them with roaring applause. The crowd treated the troops like pop stars, taking pictures and delivering hi-fives and hugs. Close to 500 soldiers tested the Texas waters for the cherished fishing trip.

The nonprofit organization, Warrior's Weekend began in 2007 to honor wounded and fallen soldiers. Although the troops and their supporters meet for a few days, the bonds last a lifetime. Some troops caught 50-pound fish, others weren't as lucky.

Regardless of the soldier's fate, each was eternally grateful to be appreciated. Some of the event organizers said their debt to the soldiers cannot be repaid.

"I have all my body parts and everything. My mind is still intact," said Darryl Lesak, the organization's treasurer. "Some of these soldiers can't say that."

Lesak, who is from Victoria, said the men and women of service fight for the country's freedom.

On Friday afternoon, a host of volunteers and first responders escorted the troops from Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston down U.S. Highway 59 to Victoria. The road was shut down to allow the seven buses to pass. The soldiers came from Kansas, Kentucky, Utah, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as the Walter Reed Hospital and Brooke Army Medical Center.

The honorees were recognized in a dedication service and a catered BBQ dinner. Edwina Vidosh, of Friendswood, volunteered for the event for the first time by serving meals. She's now addicted to helping the soldiers.

"They are so grateful. There's no pity, even if they lost their arms and legs," she said.

And for retired Sgt. 1st Class Jorge Avalos, saying thank you is enough. The 37-year-old East Los Angeles native served in the Army for 20 years. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has witnessed friends and comrades die. Avalos was injured in Crystal Lake during a free fall demonstration on New Year's Day 2011. As a result he broke his back, and his leg was partly amputated.

During his first trip to the Crossroads, he caught a few 20-inch fish. The soldier based at Fort Polk, La., didn't expect to win a blue ribbon, but he gained some friends.

"It's not about winning, but this experience," he said. 'It's mind-boggling."

Avalos, a single father of one, would like to bring his 6-year-old son, Xzander Avalos, next year.

Cindy Parsons, Shane's mother, came to the festivities to support her only child. The proud parent said her son has never lost his sense of humor and compassion for others. She said Shane is teaching himself how to read again. The former outside linebacker wants to give back to the community and coach junior high school football in his hometown.

She's thankful to God for Warrior's Weekend because it gives Shane hope.

"He'll take one step forward even if he doesn't walk again."



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