UNION HALL, Va. (WFXR) — John Mathena, an army veteran, has been retired from active duty for decades.
But, yet, he still serves.
However, he has exchanged his army greens for the uniform of a fishing captain and guide. Mathena is the owner of Patriot Fishing Charters. He is known as one of the top guides on Smith Mountain Lake.
“I served eight years,” said Mathena. ” I served stateside and abroad.”
Here is how his new service to his country and his community works. Mathena identified a need a few years ago for veterans to spend time with other veterans in a setting that was fun and serene at the same time. A free day of fishing was the answer.
“When I got out of the service and I started seeing more and more vets that just didn’t, you know, they don’t have anything to do and they get in their mind that they’re no good,” said Mathena as he guided his boat during a recent trip with two other military veterans. “They had nobody to talk to, sad. So, I said well, let’s go fishing. Let me take some guys out.”
Since then Mathena has taken out more than 100 veterans. And, he does not stop there. Mathena also organizes free trips for active duty military members, first responders, and even children with special needs.
For Mathena, service is a lifetime commitment. He says veterans are in a good position to help other veterans.
“You can listen to each other’s stories,” said Mathena. “If you’ve never served, you just don’t understand it; it’s a brotherhood. It doesn’t matter if you were in the army, navy, it’s a brotherhood.”
Two vets who fished with Mathena echoed that.
“I like getting out with my brothers and being able to talk freely about stuff that is common knowledge to us, and not have to worry about where it’s going or what it ends up as,” said marine veteran Dallas Neel. “It’s a good feeling because a lot of your friends and family don’t get it.”
“We’ve shared a lot of experiences, our language is the same. we understand each other,” added army veteran Brian Keaton. “To be on the lake, just to hang out like this after serving like that and not being around it refuels your tanks.”
Mathena says it is the knowledge that these trips are making a difference in the lives of veterans that makes his continued service to country and community all worth it.
“You know you get phone calls weeks later, ‘thanks so much, man. I really needed that. you don’t know how much you opened my eyes’, it’s just therapy is all it is,” Mathena said. “It’s therapy for them and therapy for me.”