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Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Wednesday, July 17, 2013

For a few hours on Saturday, Jeremy Feldbusch drifted on the water, not letting his blindness stop him.

Feldbusch, who lost his sight while serving as an Army Ranger in Haditha Dam, Iraq, in 2003, kayaked and fished during an outing sponsored by Heroes on the Water in Keystone State Park.

“For me, it’s about camaraderie and having a good time, meeting the people,” Feldbusch said.

The Western Pennsylvania Chapter of Heroes was formed in February and is based on the group that started in Texas in 2007.

“It’s to help them relax and (it is) a type of rehabilitation,” said Josh Edmiston, a Heroes coordinator from Penn Township. “It’s to get them out and enjoy the outdoors.”

Twenty-five veterans and volunteers showed up to kayak and fish on Keystone Lake in Derry Township.

Feldbusch’s wife, Cardin, a Derry Area School District teacher, stayed near her husband in her own kayak. On the shore, Feldbusch’s mother, Charlene, of Derry Township, watched as her son glided on the water and sometimes cast his fishing rod.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “This is awesome. It gets them out and … it brings normalcy back to their lives.”

Feldbusch of West Wheatfield spent six weeks in a medically induced coma in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He said he was angry when he learned of his blindness.

“In those early days, unless you go through it, you’ll never totally understand,” Feldbusch said. “It’s like being a kid and learning all over again.”

But the anger has subsided. And on Saturday, Feldbusch told one joke after another, laughing even at the bad ones.

“He went through some anger,” his mother said, “but he’s adjusted real well.”

He and his family are founding members of the Wounded Warrior Project, a group that helps injured veterans. His father, Brace, serves as an outreach coordinator.

Groups like Heroes and Wounded Warrior help soldiers who come home with both apparent and hidden injuries, said Fred Neilen of Lower Burrell, who was wounded in Vietnam in 1970.

The groups give veterans time to talk, to think and to commiserate, Neilen said.

“It’s good to talk, to share the experiences,” he said. “There’s stuff that goes on that only a veteran would understand.”

Neilen said he is glad American attitudes to soldiers have changed since Vietnam, “when we came back to nothing, no hurrahs.”

Now, when people see him wearing his Purple Heart hat, they often walk up and say, “Thanks for your service,” Neilen said.

“It makes you feel good,” he added.

Brian Orczeck of Hempfield, an Air Force veteran, used the time Saturday to speak with fellow veterans and share time with his 11-year-old son, Franklin.

“It’s an opportunity to relax and ponder life,” Orczeck said. “It’s a good time to sort out the things of life.”

Video: TribLive – Heroes On The Water – Western PA Chapter

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