Hudson hunts up Sussex County-style retreat for veterans

Coastal Point • Submitted: Phil Hudson poses with Wishes for Warriors founder and veteran Brian ‘Bam Bam’ Marshall, and veterans Wally Fanene, Jason Grigg and Jose Vazquez after a shooting day with East Coast Defense.Coastal Point • Submitted: Phil Hudson poses with Wishes for Warriors founder and veteran Brian ‘Bam Bam’ Marshall, and veterans Wally Fanene, Jason Grigg and Jose Vazquez after a shooting day with East Coast Defense.Injuries have kept Phil Hudson from his dream of joining the Marine Corps. But that wasn’t going to stop him from serving his country.

After three separate attempts to enlist, Hudson finally found his calling this past November, when he hosted three veterans and Wishes for Warriors founder Brian “Bam Bam” Marshall at his 15-bedroom farmhouse for a good old Sussex County hunting trip.

“I tried to go in the military myself three times, and because of medical reasons I couldn’t do it, so I’ve been struggling with that,” Hudson said. “I’ve always wanted to do it, ever since I was a little kid. Once I realized that I didn’t have that option, I figured, ‘Well, I need to take care of the guys who did have that option.’”

The non-profit was formed less than three years ago and was designed to help veterans returning from overseas get an opportunity to readjust by way of outdoor-style retreats. An avid outdoorsman himself, Hudson jumped at the chance to reach out to Marshall and the organization when he discovered it via social media.

“What they do is take veterans hunting and fishing and all kind of outdoors stuff. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ve got farmland and I’ve got this giant house with 15 rooms, so I thought, ‘Well, why not host these guys at my house?’” he explained. “I had these resources, I had access to this land, so I said, ‘That’s what I’m gonna use.’” Through the generosity of friends and the community, we made it happen.”

With the WFW founder and Wally Fanene from California, Jason Grigg from Massachusetts, and Jose Vazquez from Texas all scheduled to make the trip to Delaware, Hudson took a week off from work and began planning the retreat. Raising money for the food, hunting supplies and anything else they’d need for the stay through donations from the community, he said he was in awe of the response.

“The outpouring of generosity was overwhelming,” he said. “[The veterans] could see the generosity of the people here, and I could see it more than I ever have.

“I grew up here and I know good neighborly people, good patriotic people, but when they heard about these veterans coming to town, they wanted to help. They were almost aggressive about getting involved, and I was touched by it and I know all these vets that were here were touched by it as well.”

Throughout the week, the crew went duck hunting in Crab Point, Md., deer hunting in Milford, and shooting where the vets used brand new shotguns that they would then get to bring home with them as well - one paid for by East Coast Defense and the others made possible through discounts and donations.

They soaked in the Sussex County culture, dining out with a meal on the house at Catch 54, where, Hudson said, they went through six or seven dozen oysters, and capped it all off with an invitation from Colin Herlihy and Lauren Bohager for a feast at the “Buck Ranch,” on duck, venison, and, of course, plenty more oysters.

But what started as a week-long hunting retreat would turn into much more, as four war veterans and a good old boy from Sussex County wanting to help his country who had previously been strangers, quickly became friends.

“I picked them up from the airport, and we stayed up until 3 or 3:30 that night, all just talking and getting to know each other,” Hudson said. “The nicest guys… so humble. They’re all married with kids, and they finally got to be a part of the boys again.

“The stuff that these guys go through, and then have to come home and live normal lives and act like everything’s fine — I saw the pain in their eyes.

“Wally, he’s a double amputee, and he was the most giving person I’ve ever met. When we got back from a hunt and everybody was tired, he would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, man — what can I help you with?’

“It was the coolest thing that I’ve ever been a part of, and it all started through Instagram, and now I talk to them on a weekly basis.”

Catch 54 bartenders joining in to raise funds for vets at Burley Oak

While Hudson plans to try to organize another trip this spring, sharing his experience with friends throughout the community has already seemed to make an impact — this time by way of Catch 54 bartender Megan Amodeo, who jumped at the chance to help raise funds when she heard about what he was doing.

For the past four years, Amodeo has helped set up fundraisers at Burley Oak Brewing Co. in Berlin, Md., guest-bartending events, which she said is her way of giving back.

“When they were telling me about it in November, I knew I wanted to help,” Amodeo said. “I decided to do it a couple of years ago because I’m a single mom and I don’t have money to give but I’m a great bartender, so this was perfect for me. It’s the thing that I can do to give back.”

Amodeo will jump behind the bar with Bohager and Jana Susenaceva — who, as Hudson’s girlfriend, had stayed away during the hunting retreat, aside from helping out with the accommodations, but had also been inspired to get involved.

“I basically did not see him the whole week, because I knew it was ‘man stuff,’” Susenaceva said with a laugh.

Now, however, Susenaceva gets her chance to be more involved, going around to local business with Amodeo, in search of donations to be auctioned off at the Monday, Feb. 1, event at Burley Oak. And, just as Hudson had found when he reached out to the community, they found the response overwhelming.

“The best part is not only seeing how excited Jana and Phil are about doing it, but how everybody is so giving in the community,” Amodeo said. “We’ve gotten donations from so many awesome places, and people don’t even hesitate.”

Plenty of others throughout the community have found that excitement infectious as well, with the event slated to include a variety of artists and local business owners donating items for raffle, and proceeds from their work on display to go along with half of all tips and 10 percent of the night’s bar ring.

The night will get under way at 6 p.m. and feature live music from Brian Russo starting at 8 p.m., but even with the generosity displayed so far, the group noted that showing up at the event to support the cause is still paramount.

“I know that, in past years, we’ve raised a couple thousand dollars for charities doing this,” said Amodeo. “There’s more of a socializing scene. There’s going to be a couple artists there that are going to be showcasing their stuff, donating 50 percent to the event. By just buying a beer that night, you’ve donated. That’s the cool part about it. But there’s also so many other ways of making it possible for them to donate that night.”

“We want everyone to come in, just to say hi, hang out, meet other local people to see what they do. We invited a lot of local small-business owners,” added Susenaceva. “We want it to be as laidback as possible.”

Hudson noted that he’s hoping to see veterans from all generations in attendance, and he said that, while they’re all excited about what they’ve done so far, he has no plans of being discharged from what he considers to be his new form of active service.

“We want any vets from any generations to come meet us there. We want to celebrate what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s my active service. They serve the country, so it’s our turn to serve them.”

For more on Wishes for Warriors, visit The Burley Oak Brewing Co. is located at 10016 Old Ocean City Boulevard in Berlin, Md.