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East Lyme - As the sun shone brightly and sea gulls flew overhead Wednesday afternoon, 31 veterans gathered on the Black Hawk dock in Niantic to embark on a fishing excursion for striped bass and blue fish.
Standing near the white boat adorned with military flags, the Rocky Hill Veterans' Home residents listened and laughed at jokes while the boat's owner, Capt. Greg Dubrule, gave them a fishing lesson.
U.S. Air Force veteran William Shivell, who was among the group, said he returned to fish again this year after enjoying a similar trip for veterans last year.
"We had a great time," he said. "We caught a lot of fish."
For the fourth year in a row, the Black Hawk hosted the special fishing trip, which the Northeast Saltwater Fishing Club also sponsors, for the veterans. This year's trip, as well as last year's, was held on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
Organizers such as Dubrule, whose father, Raymond Dubrule, served in World War II, said the trip is a way to give thanks to the veterans for their service.
"They've done so much for us - for everybody," said Heather Harris, Dubrule's daughter, who works at the family-operated Black Hawk and helped organize the trip. "This is the least we can do for them."
Army veteran Jose Aponte, whose friend Jim Willkas, a Navy veteran, invited him on the trip, was wearing an American flag pin on his red baseball cap. He said he was wearing the pin, which he received on the bus ride, to remember the people who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
He felt the trip was a meaningful way to commemorate the anniversary and spend time with others who were in the military.
"We're all veterans," he said. "We all serve the community."
Once the veterans reached their fishing grounds in Long Island Sound, they observed a moment of silence to honor all veterans as well as the people who died on Sept. 11, according to David Carlson, the fishing club member who initiated the first trip in 2009 and coordinated with the Black Hawk.
The veterans caught close to 200 fish, most of which will go to a pantry in Middletown and local church in Rocky Hill, Carlson added.
In addition to the contributions of the Black Hawk and the Northeast Saltwater Fishing Club, the Peter Pan Bus Co. donated the bus to drive the veterans from Rocky Hill to Niantic.
Mr. Trophy, a Hartford retailer, donated trophies for fishing contests Wednesday, including biggest fish caught or best-dressed fisherman. Veterans Barry Lorette, Ken Hardy, Mike Beverly and Don Supersad took home trophies this year, according to Carlson.
Fishing club member Ed Localio, who helped out on the trip, said he always enjoys seeing the veterans laughing and happy.
"In the course of one day, they do an about-face," he said.
The Black Hawk, which offers community initiatives throughout the year - such as donating 10,000 pounds of fish fillets to the United Way last year - will offer this year two other trips for veterans and one for active-duty members and their families, Harris said.