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Memorial hunt gives wounded, disabled vets a weekend enjoying S.C. outdoors

Paul Payne, right, an Army veteran of three wars from Spartanburg, talks with Mikal Stephenson of Chester. They were at Quail Creek Farm in Joanna for the Deer Hunt for the Mobility Impaired Sportsmen in South Carolina that was being held in the Clinton-Newberry area Friday and today. They met at the farm to have barbecue and fellowship before the hunt Friday.
Paul Payne, right, an Army veteran of three wars from Spartanburg, talks with Mikal Stephenson of Chester. They were at Quail Creek Farm in Joanna for the Deer Hunt for the Mobility Impaired Sportsmen in South Carolina that was being held in the Clinton-Newberry area Friday and today. They met at the farm to have barbecue and fellowship before the hunt Friday.

PROSPERITY -- Don Warren was so excited he couldn't sleep the night before.

The Army specialist and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars knew that on Friday, he'd be in the fields and woods near Prosperity hunting deer.

"I've missed the smell of fresh, clear air and seeing the animals in their natural surroundings," said the 25-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa., as he got ready for his first hunt in a year.

Warren was participating in a weekend hunt for disabled and wounded military veterans, which included active-duty soldiers such as him who are being treated in Army hospitals.

The event, honoring the memory of Marine Lt. Jesse Baker, a Whitmire native who was killed in Vietnam, got under way Fri- day and will conclude this afternoon.

It is the brainchild of Terry Cotney, an Air Force veteran and Prosperity resident.

The 59-year-old Cotney wanted to find a way to show his appreciation for veterans and current service members and also give them an opportunity to enjoy the sport.

"It's just a joy and a blessing to do this for our veterans," Cotney said.

Readying fields took months

The event is held in conjunction with hunts around the state for the impaired coordinated by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Cotney and other volunteers spent months readying the fields for hunters.

For example, lanes were bulldozed so hunters in wheelchairs could go into the fields. Ground blinds were erected for the impaired hunters, while tree stands were built for those who could climb.

In addition, dozens of sponsors and volunteers donated food, drinks and gear, and area landowners hosted hunters on their property.

Many of the 90 hunters lodged in area motels, Cotney said. Expenses were paid from the Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund and the Spc. Thomas Caughman Memorial Fund, Cotney added.

Caughman, of Lexington, died in 2004 when his convoy was ambushed near Baghdad.

To Warren, the hunt was an opportunity to leave the Army hospital at Fort Gordon, Ga., where he has been undergoing physical therapy for wounds suffered a year ago in Afghanistan.

Warren, a sniper, said he suffered shrapnel wounds "over my whole body" when he and a group of soldiers were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as they stepped off a C-130 transport plane at Bagram Airfield in October 2007. He has been in and out of military hospitals since.

Pfc. George Bouchard, who also is undergoing treatment at Fort Gordon, said it has been two years since he last went hunting.

"I love to get outdoors and enjoy nature," said Bouchard, 44, a Virginia National Guard soldier. He was wounded in November 2007 when the Humvee he was in was hit by a roadside bomb.

"It's great," Bouchard said of the hunt. "It just shows that America does care."

For Staff Sgt. E.J. Stacy, 38, the event marked his first venture into the fields.

"I pretty much wanted to get a feel for it," said the 18-year Army veteran, who grew up in the suburbs around Chesapeake, Va.

"It's really good that people here are doing this for the soldiers," said Stacy, who has been undergoing treatment at Fort Gordon for a back injury. "It shows their concern for the troops."

Ernie McDuell of Gray Court was just as grateful.

A Vietnam veteran, the 61-year-old former Marine remembers protesters throwing rotten eggs at him when returned home after losing his right leg to a land mine.

"It just means there are a lot of decent people here," said McDuell as he prepared to go hunting for the first time in 30 years.

"I just want to commune with nature, hope I see a deer but don't get buck fever," McDuell said.

Paul Payne, a retired Army sergeant major, is one of the wheelchair-bound hunters.

Payne, 60, of Spartanburg, was paralyzed when he fell out of a tree while hunting.

"Can you imagine that?" Payne said. "I survived three wars -- Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Storm -- and then fall out of tree.

"But it's just a privilege to be here," Payne said. "The camaraderie means more to me than anything else."

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