Peer fishing festival helps unite, heal veterans

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Will Stewart at Peer Fishing Festival on October 4, 2019 (Photo: Bonnie Wilburn)

OAK ISLAND, NC (WWAY) — Hundreds of veterans filled Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island for a day of healing with friends and family.

Operation North State and other organizations gave veterans the opportunity to fish all day surrounded by friends and family.

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For one mother, the Peer Fishing Festival changed her son’s life after his injury.

“Your son is still able to find peace when he has every reason not to,” Bonnie Wilburn said.
“It’s a warm feeling. It’s satisfaction knowing that he didn’t let something bad take the good away from him.”

Bonnie Wilburn said life changed for her and her son, Will Stewart seven years ago after an injury in Afghanistan left him blind and partially paralyzed. Wilburn said Stewart chooses to keep his spirits high.



“He’s at peace. He feels normal. He doesn’t let the injury take away his livelihood,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn said Stewart has fished his entire life and she wanted to make sure that did not change.

“We’ve ordered left handed reels, electric reels because he loves fishing so much. And we wanted to keep him in that sport,” Wilburn said.

Every year, they make a special trip from Fayetteville to the ocean crest pier for the Peer Fishing Festival. Wilburn said Operation North State Founder Terry Snyder has made a huge impact on Stewart’s life.

“He interacts and enjoys the company of the guys that are here. He loves Terry from Operation North State,” Wilburn said.

Snyder said this is a time for wounded warriors and disabled veterans to build connections with those who can relate.

“Well, we utilize an actual fishing pier, but we call it ‘peer’, because we’ve got wounded warriors and disabled veterans hanging out with their fellow wounded warriors and disabled veterans,” Snyder said.

Wilburn said this life event has also taught her a lesson.

“Don’t ever give up on them,” Wilburn said. “Help them. Support them no matter what the situation is, good or bad, because they are your children. You know? And they need you.”

The event costs thousands of dollars, but organizers said, for the veterans, it is all free including the fishing equipment, meals, and fishing expertise.