Group donates bass boat to wounded veteran, an avid fisherman
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — They started with a picture of an Army staff sergeant but no name, just a vague impression that he was from the Tulsa area.
Tony Orlando, who recorded "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Ole Oak Tree" in 1973 as a tribute to veterans, had met the wounded soldier briefly on a visit to Fort Hood, Texas.
"Can I do anything for you?" Orlando had asked him.
He wanted to go home to Oklahoma, but Orlando couldn't help with that.
If he could wish for anything else, the soldier said, it would be for new fishing equipment.
"And," he joked, "I'd really like a bass boat,"
Orlando left thinking he hadn't helped the soldier much. So, later, he wanted to invite him to his Veterans Day show in Branson, Mo.
Orlando just didn't know who the guy was. So he asked for help from Soldier's Wish, a Tulsa group that — like the name suggests — grants wishes to soldiers who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
They found the right soldier, but he wasn't healthy enough to leave a military hospital at the time.
His name was Daryl Fiset.
"He was a guy who had been suffering a lot of depression and mental anxiety," said Kevin McDugle, the executive director of Soldier's Wish.
"We really wanted to do something for him. Something big."
Soldier's Wish gave Fiset a $1,000 gift card to the Bass Pro Shop.
He finally was healthy enough to come spend some of it at the store Tuesday.
Jazzlyn Hill, Fiset's girlfriend, parked at a loading dock in back, and she said it was OK because she knew somebody who works there.
"This isn't my first rodeo," Fiset said. "I knew something was up but didn't know what it was."
The second clue was when Hill led him out the front door before they were even done shopping.
Then came the reporters and photographers waiting next to a speaker's podium.
"I looked behind me to see if there was somebody important," Fiset joked. "But it was just me."
McDugle said a few words. Orlando spoke to Fiset by phone.
Then a John Deere tractor came around the corner pulling a new bass boat with a big red Christmas bow on top of it, a gift for Fiset, courtesy of the Bass Pro Shop.
"What do you think?" somebody asked Fiset.
"I think," he said, "that there are a lot of soldiers out there who deserve this more than I do."
His injuries are hard to describe. Fiset didn't even know he was hurt before he came back from a second tour of Afghanistan.
"I went from being outgoing and virile to being somebody else," he said. "My memory turned off. My personality, everything, turned off."
His girlfriend could have walked out on him, Fiset said. He wouldn't have blamed her.
Instead, Hill took him to a hospital.
Doctors eventually diagnosed brain trauma, followed by the discovery of tumors, which led to chemotherapy and weakened bones, forcing Fiset to use a walker.
"The hardest part," Hill said, "is watching him get weaker and weaker."
But he can still fish.
"It may take me a while to get to the spot where I want to be," Fiset said, talking about fishing holes but maybe meaning life in general, too. "But I'll get there."