It was Friday night at the Granzella’s Banquet Hall in Williams, and Field of Dreams founder and president Tom Dermody was a man in constant motion as he prepared to kick off his organization’s annual ‘Warriors in the Wetlands’ duck hunt.
Field of Dreams Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to honoring past and present soldiers, special needs children, and children of fallen soldiers by connecting them with the outdoors. The organization takes small groups out on all kinds of hunts, from Canada to Africa and everywhere between. The Warriors in the Wetlands duck hunt is one of the group’s largest events, along with their annual fishing day. This year’s duck hunt was among the largest in the event’s eight-year history. Around 30 veterans – 14 of whom were from out of state – took part this year, hunting as guests of Field of Dreams, local duck hunters and a handful of area hunting clubs.
On Friday, as Dermody moved from the east entrance to the west entrance, the west to the east and back again, he greeted veterans along the way like good friends. In many cases, they are – both of Dermody, and of the organization.
Such was the case with retired US Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew Lippert, who first got into contact with Dermody after going on a hunt with Make A Difference Outdoors, a similar organization that has ties to Field of Dreams.
“I got invited out on a dove hunt with them and we just crushed the doves,” Lippert recalled.
After the hunt, Scott Jones, the founder of Make A Difference Outdoors, introduced Dermody – a longtime friend – to Lippert. Lippert applied for a hunt with Field of Dreams, and when the last year’s Warriors in the Wetlands rolled around, he was selected to participate. Since then, he has become a true friend to the organization and has given back in a big way. This year, the company he works for, Finance of America, used money raised through a charity golf tournament to purchase a new $22,000 utility vehicle for Field of Dreams.
“Andrew and his company have been big supporters of what we do,” said Field of Dreams member Holly Dermody, Tom’s daughter.
While Lippert said that the hunting itself is fun, it’s not necessarily what inspired him to give back to Field of Dreams.
“As a veteran, you get out of the military, and there are very few opportunities to have a gathering of people who have had similar experiences,” said Lippert. “The whole combination of what they do over this weekend is it.”
Duck-less in Colusa
As Clark Schoening led a pair of Marine Corps veterans through a thick, low-lying fog on the way to his blind at the Hollywood Club outside of Colusa on Saturday morning, he spoke to his guests with measured optimism. No wind, a full moon a few days before – it wasn’t duck weather, but the fog was somewhat promising.
“It’d be better if it was a higher fog,” Schoening, an Army veteran himself, told them. “I put in a word with the Big Guy upstairs and asked him for you guys to have a few chances at ducks today. We’ll see what happens.”
His guests were retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Diego Rivera and his cousin, retired Marine Corps Sgt. Vince DeOchoa. It was Rivera’s first time hunting ducks. It had been a long time for DeOchoa, but he said he had hunted ducks on private ponds in the past. It was the first time out in the rice for both men.
The three men got a few chances, but not much more. Early in the morning, a ball of a dozen or so Green-winged teal sneaked in along the check from the east and scattered over the blind. Schoening knocked one down, but his guests didn’t have a chance to shoot before they were out of range. Later, a single teal flew by to the north. DeOchoa hit the bird, but failed to knock it down. As the diminutive duck was flying away from the hunters, Rivera took his time and sent up a prayer of an 80-yard shot. Schoening was halfway through telling Rivera it was too far to shoot when Rivera hit it and knocked it out of the sky.
Some time later, after the flight had died down the conversation had picked up, DeOchoa looked over at his cousin and noticed his first two knuckles on his right hand were bloodied. DeOchoa asked him what had happened, and Rivera told him that because he couldn’t make a fist with his right hand, the recoil caused the shotgun’s trigger guard to scuff his knuckles.
“Battle wounds,” Rivera said with a smile.
Rivera explained that he had two fake knuckles on his right hand as the result of an injury he sustained while in the Marine Corps, which kept him from making a fist.
“Did that happen over there (in Iraq)?” Schoening asked.
It did, Rivera said – it was the result of an IED explosion.
As the day progressed and the fog cleared and the hunting remained slow, the three men talked about their time in the service for hours – with topics ranging from service weapons to phone calls home, to friends who didn’t come back. At one point, when Schoening was lamenting the lack of ducks in the blind and apologizing to his guests for the lackluster hunt, Rivera told him it wasn’t a big deal.
“I’m just happy we’re out here doing this,” Rivera said.
“Do you guys listen to any country western music?” Schoening asked DeOchoa and Rivera some time later, near the end of the hunt. “I have the title for the next great country western hit: It’s gonna be called ‘Duck-less in Colusa.’ You have to hunt here to get it.”
On Saturday, Field of Dreams and Schoening enabled DeOchoa and Rivera to do so. And while the skies were nearly duck-less, it really didn’t matter.