Washington Irving supposedly once said, “There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of mind.” Sgt. Lew Duckwall, a decorated Marine and former Guardsman would certainly agree.Sgt. Duckwall enjoyed fishing as a teenager but didn’t have much spare time on his hands after 1982. He was busy serving as a Marine and later a National Guardsman. Lew spent decades training to lead men in combat and became an NCO in both services. His training and experience turned him into a skilled warrior and leader.
But on the day before Thanksgiving in 2002 in the Middle East, Sgt. Duckwall’s military career came to an end – and he nearly lost his life.
While clearing out a collapsed building, Sgt. Duckwall’s legs came in contact with a live electrical wire while standing in water that was covering the floor of the building. He was electrocuted and flat-lined two times while being initially treated for his injuries in the medical facility where he was stationed in the Middle East. For a former Marine, this is a setback you simply overcome, and then get back to your unit. But in Lew’s case, his injuries were so severe he was unable to return to his unit. He was discharged with a 100 percent disability rating.
Sometimes, it’s not the war that kills you, it’s the war that erupts inside when your calling is stolen by something as simple as a cord in some standing water.Lew admitted, “Coming home, I was discouraged, afraid, and very angry.” Things at home weren’t going very well for him either.
But out of the blue, Sgt. Duckwall received an invitation from a non-profit organization to go on a fishing trip. “It absolutely turned my life around. It is impossible to describe the healing powers of water and nature but they are real if not describable. There is almost something magical about standing in a rushing stream while experiencing the beauty and serenity of nature. As I boarded a plane home after a week of fishing I knew I had found my calling. I knew, if given a chance, I would spend the rest of my life helping wounded and sick veterans.”
Sgt. Duckwall had a new calling and was determined to help other wounded warriors. In 2013 Duckwall founded North Texas Healing Waters, part of the national Project Healing Waters started in Bethesda in 2004. The north Texas group made its first fishing trip in May of 2013 and Sgt. Duckwall was once again leading his troops — this time helping them with the difficult transition from warrior to civilian.
“In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d be leading a registered 501c non-profit organization.” Lew continued. “It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers, and money, in order to get each veteran transported, equipped, lodged and fed before they can take the first step into the water. Our donors know we are one-hundred percent volunteer operated here at North Texas Healing Waters. Every penny donated goes to the veterans, we don’t have anyone on staff that is paid, we don’t rent any offices, we work out of our homes on our own time. We are blessed that we have as many donors as we do have and that we can take as many veterans out fishing as we have been able to. And yet…there are so many more that we could help. But despite that, what we can accomplish and what we have accomplished is near miraculous. Our donors and volunteers are the greatest people in the world and they all report that they get a huge feeling of satisfaction from helping us to help our wounded and returning soldiers.”
“We recently completed a female wounded soldier’s fishing trip, where only wounded female soldiers and female fly fishing guides attend. It was an experiment to reach out to our wounded women soldiers and put them in a fishing trip context that would be relaxing. It was a huge success and we will be repeating that as often as possible,” Lew said.
North Texas Healing Waters has been so successful in helping wounded warriors it currently has a waiting list of veterans who want to participate in the fishing trips. Over 200 veterans have already taken part. But it would all be impossible without the help of so many.
Sgt. Duckwall wanted to make sure we mentioned Linda King and her husband Jesse who own the Three Rivers Fly shop in Broken Bow, OK who have been involved since almost since day one. Sean Riley, a retired American Airlines and F16 figher pilot, Dr. Patrick Waters and Bill Hodges, former president of the Fort Worth Fly Fishers and Michalynn Wagner all have given countless hours of their time. Most especially he is grateful to his wife Nicole, whose love and devotion inspires him every day.
If you’re interested in helping this project, or if you are a wounded veteran who’d like to learn the art of fly fishing and spend time with fellow veterans for mental decompression healing, please contact North Texas Healing Waters and Sgt. Duckwall at www.ntxhealingwaters.com.