FOX RIVER GROVE – Johnny Williams sat back in his chair and soaked in the sun as he felt a tug on his line.
“Oh,” he said, as a smile crept across his face and he started to crank the reel. Nothing was on the hook, but that was OK.
On Wednesday, Williams was one of nearly 400 war veterans who came to Lions Park in Fox River Grove for the 25th annual Chris Chigas Hospitalized Veterans Picnic. Williams, who is blind, spent the bulk of the picnic sitting on the shoreline, talking with others and fishing.
“It is a very nice day to just be outside,” he said. “Everyone eating seems pretty quiet, so the food must be good. I hope they’re enjoying themselves, because I know I sure am.”
Beneath a cloudless sky, picnickers ate bratwurst and hamburgers under a shelter. Some participated in activities, which included a baggo tournament with three stations, bingo games and boat rides on the Fox River.
Veterans were bused to the picnic from hospitals, including Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and one hospital in Milwaukee.
“What we try to do is to make sure they have a good time,” said Gary Foster, commander of Cary-Grove AMVETS Pearl Harbor Memorial Post 245. “We are glad we are able to do this every year.”
Since the post started the picnic in 1987, volunteers have taken care of the veterans. Volunteers on Wednesday grilled plenty of food on two, 5-foot grills, and served soda, water, cupcakes and ice cream.
Among the volunteers were Boy Scout Troops 161 and 166. They were recycling and throwing away trash and walked veterans to the boat landing for boat rides, baited fish hooks and picked up errant beanbags.
Tommy Schnidt, of Troop 166, assisted the blind veterans. He dialed a number for one, got food and drinks for a few others, and held their arms as they walked to the shoreline.
Last year, a blind veteran won a game of bingo and gave Schnidt his prize of an American flag hat. The Scout has been wearing it ever since.
“It is a really cool thing to do,” the 13-year-old said. “Helping out veterans is fun because I know they need the help, and it feels really good, too, knowing that you can help someone.”
How you can help
Donations may be sent year-round to: Cary-Grove AMVETS, P.O. Box 741, Cary, IL 60013.