Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation is a national 501(c)(3) public charity that devotes all its energy and resources to supporting the men and women wounded in combat who received the Purple Heart medal. WWIA supports these heroes by providing them the opportunity to participate in world-class outdoor sporting activities at no cost. The organization does this to recognize and honor our veterans’ sacrifices, encourage independence and connections with communities, and to promote healing and wellness through camaraderie and a shared passion for the outdoors.
Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) John J. McDaniel founded WWIA Foundation in 2007 in Apollo Beach, Florida. While he had retired from his military career in the U.S. Army, McDaniel felt his service to our nation was not yet finished.
“I started out as a concerned citizen taking a few Wounded Warriors out on hunting and fishing trips, but quickly realized the need and demand for this type of healing was far greater that what I could provide on my own,” McDaniel said.
WWIA was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2009 and has been growing and changing the lives of more American heroes every year since. WWIA Foundation now serves more than 175 Purple Heart recipients each year at more than 40 different events across North America.
Wisconsin fishing guide Andy Hendrickson is a Wounded Warriors in Action volunteer. A veteran and Purple Heart recipient himself, Hendrickson has a good understanding of the types of trauma our veterans return home with. He also understands all the ways fishing can help heal.
The very definition of a patriot, Hendrickson grew up in a military family. His father and grandfather both served, so after graduating from college with an associate’s degree in machining in June of 2000, he decided to join the U.S. Army on active duty. Hendrickson completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, followed by 14 weeks of additional job training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
Hendrickson’s first duty station was at Camp Casey in Korea, just a few miles outside the DMZ between North and South Korea. He’d remain stationed at Camp Casey for a 12-month period, which included the Sept. 11 attacks. After a brief stay at Fort Lewis, Washington, Hendrickson was promoted to sergeant in February of 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in April of 2003.
“Our logistical base was located just outside of the BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) boundaries. I was a squad leader and shop foreman in charge of eight soldiers,” Hendrickson said. “Our base would receive direct and indirect fire two or three times a day from enemy forces. Most times their rounds would land inside our walls but wouldn’t hit areas with personnel.”
On January 6, 2004, however, a handful of Iraqi mortars finally connected with the roof of Hendrickson’s squad’s sleeping warehouse. The attack left him with severe shrapnel wounds to his neck and back. Hendrickson recovered and went back to full duty, finishing out his five-year enlistment and earning a Purple Heart for his great personal sacrifice in support of our American freedoms.
Like so many of our nation’s Wounded Warriors, Hendrickson returned home from service with both visible and invisible scars. Thankfully, his passion for fishing was still burning. The return to fishing eased Hendrickson’s mind and helped return his spirit to a place of peace.
“Fishing equals healing!” Hendrickson said, “and I jumped back into my dream of living and guiding anglers in the Northwoods. I moved to Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and started the first leg of that dream in late 2007.”
Hendrickson spent almost all of his free time fishing and exploring the hundreds of new lakes at his disposal.
“I became friends with a couple seasoned fishing guides in the area who took me under their wings,” he said. “I learned so much from these guides and did a lot of watching and listening. Before long, I knew I had more than enough knowledge to start guiding on my own.”
For the past 14 years now, Hendrickson has been living his dream. A member of the St. Croix Rods pro staff, he owns and operates Hendo’s Angling Expeditions, guiding anglers on the numerous lakes in Wisconsin’s storied Oneida and Vilas counties. He also regularly donates his time and volunteers his services and expertise in support of numerous Veteran organizations and events.
“Fishing really is a great way to help bring healing to our veterans, and that’s why there are so many events that highlight taking veterans fishing,” Hendrickson said. “I love giving back to our veterans through these events. One of them is the Wounded Warriors in Action Eagle River Musky Chal-Lunge, held every September in Eagle River. The event brings in 10 Purple Heart recipients from around the country for a few days of musky fishing and relaxation. WWIA organizes and hosts over 40 events like this one across the United States each year.”
Hendrickson says he learned many things while on active duty, including leadership skills in the toughest environments, patience, and being thankful for each and every day after having a near-death experience. These life lessons are with him each and every day, and he’s grateful to be able to apply what he’s learned to help his clients — and other veterans he shares his boat with — to catch more fish or just have a more enjoyable experience on the water.
“There are veterans all over who have invisible effects from war that could be physical or mental,” Hendrickson said. “Every day of my life, my own body hurts, but I don’t show it. Most veterans like to blend in with the crowd and we don’t flaunt what we have been through. Getting together in a boat or spending relaxing and fun time with others who have lived through similar experiences at WWIA events can be very beneficial. It’s like taking a deep breath.”
Special American-Made Rods to Support Real American Heroes
Beginning Veteran’s Day, Saturday, Nov. 11, the St. Croix family is asking for help from the fishing community in raising a total of $80,000 to support our veterans through the healing work of Wounded Warriors in Action and Take a Vet Fishing. A fixed quantity of 1,000 Limited Edition St. Croix Premier rods — the No. 1-selling American-made fishing rod series — will be offered for sale. These 7-foot medium-light and medium power, fast action spinning rods wear the Take a Vet Fishing and Wounded Warriors in Action logos and will sell for $200. These high-performance multi-species fishing rods are a perfect fit to any angler’s arsenal and are sure to be a treasured gift for any veteran in your life. Most importantly, your purchase of one or more of these special rods will help St. Croix complete its mission of donating $40,000 each to the separate Take a Vet Fishing and Wounded Warriors in Action organizations.
These rods are expected to sell out quickly, so be ready to log onto stcroixrods.com beginning at 7 a.m. CT on Veteran’s Day. Until then, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Wounded Warriors in Action, you can do so here. Thanks in advance for your support!