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Boat4Vets offers free day on the lake for local veterans

By Barb Pert Templeton 

It started with one boat captain and one veteran as his passenger. 

Forrest Walker, the current Boat4Vets Lake St. Clair Chapter Commander, recalls it was the late Michael Shaw, of Algonac, who inadvertently started the program on Lake St. Clair. 

Shaw was upset about how a Vietnam veteran was treated at a local airport and offered to take him out on Lake St. Clair in his boat and then buy him lunch. 

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Soon, a special way to honor all local veterans was born.

Photo courtesy of boat4vets.com
The Boat4Vets event in Algonac has been blessed with great weather on the water over the last half dozen years.

In 2009 the St. Clair Chapter of Boat4Vets was launched followed by a Flint Chapter in 2012 and a Port Huron Chapter in 2014. The recipe was simple, get several dozen local boat owners to volunteer their vessels and their time on a Saturday during the summer and then work to raise funds to buy the veteran’s lunch.

After two years in dry dock due to the pandemic, this year’s Boat4Vets Day will return on Saturday, June 18th at the Harbor Club in Algonac at 10 a.m. Walker said boats will pull up to the club and take vets on a 90-minute ride before returning to the marina and going into the nearby VFW Hall for a meal. In all, over 150 people participate in the event.

“We do all the cooking and we have our own pastor who gives a blessing, including one for POWs and MIA soldiers,” Walker said, adding that they also take a moment to thank their sponsors and honor the veterans in attendance.

Photo courtesy of boat4vets.com
Veterans can signup for the Boat4Vets event and bring along a guest.

Walker, of Algonac, is an Army veteran having served during the Vietnam War, he volunteered as a boat captain for several years before being named commander of the event in 2015. The one-day-a-year program is a non-profit and 100 percent of the proceeds raised from small fundraisers and raffles goes right back into the organization.

Any and all veterans from the area are invited to register to take a boat ride and can bring along a guest, be it a spouse, friend or caregiver. Walker said there are veterans of WWII and Korea but those numbers are dwindling fast. 

“A lot of the guys are older so we help them on and off the boats,” Walker said. “But they all have such great senses of humor and funny stories to tell. I picked up one older guy, he couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds and he got on the boat and I handed him a cold beer; he had been a tough marine; and he just sat there all day enjoying the ride.”

Photo courtesy of boat4vets.com
St. Clair Chapter Boat4Vets Commander Forrest Walker.

Vietnam veterans also take part each year and the event’s finally getting younger veterans, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, to come out, Walker said.

As to the local volunteers with their boats, about 80 percent return each year to take the soldiers out on the water. The minimum boat size required is 22 feet and that’s just to keep things safe for the passengers and crew. 

Private boat owners are joined by boats from the St. Clair Marine Division, U.S. Coast Guard, and Clay Township Police and Fire Boats.

Photo courtesy of boat4vets.com The 11th Annual Boat4Vets will return to the Harbor Club in Algonac on June 18 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

“We tell the boat captains to take it easy because the cops are right behind them,” laughed Walker.

Clay Township Supervisor Artie Bryson has taken part in the event for many years now and said he really enjoys taking groups out on his own personal boat. Although this year he’ll be the captain of a friend’s vessel – a 50-foot yacht that dates to 1929. 

“He’s going to be out of town so he asked me to take that out for him so I’ll be the captain of a yacht this year,” Bryson said, adding that he can probably take about 20 passengers on board the vessel.

Walker, who begins planning the event in February assisted by eight captains, also takes a group out on his own pontoon boat and said it’s really a highlight of the day for him.

“It’s a great outing, everybody likes it and the community does too because they know that it doesn’t cost anything,” Walker said, noting he will be surrendering his commander post next year in favor of a pair of younger men who have agreed to step in and run Boat4Vets 2023.

For more information about the St. Clair Boat4Vets event including registering for a seat on a local boat contact Forrest Walker at (810)512-4660.

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