David Masemer, an Army Reservist from Hanover, fishes from a kayak Sunday on Lake Williams. He and other veterans participated in the first local Heroes on
David Masemer, an Army Reservist from Hanover, fishes from a kayak Sunday on Lake Williams. He and other veterans participated in the first local Heroes on the Water event bringing military members together in a relaxing setting. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

Times have changed since Vietnam veteran John Gordy was overseas in 1968 - especially how people treat war vets.

"Back then, we didn't have the support - God blessĀ„'em - that we do today," he said.

Gordy, 63, of Fairview Township, retired from the National Guard in 2009. Out of respect for those who serve and their families, he participates in the Family Readiness Group - which provides support for families while loved ones are deployed - and the Wounded Warrior Project. And on Sunday, he gave his time to a fresh initiative.

Heroes on the Water, a nonprofit organization that aims to get vets on the water for fishing adventures, expanded to Central Pennsylvania in March. Its inaugural event took four vets and 15 volunteers kayaking and fishing on Lake Williams in York Township.

"This here is great," Gordy said. "This gives them a means to get together and talk to people who have similar thought processes."

Palling around: The event was a success, and all the vets caught at least one fish, said Dustin Miller, chapter coordinator.

"I've seen personally the difference it makes in veterans," he said. "There's something about being on the water - it's purifying."

And with several first-time kayakers, he said everything went considerably smoothly.

"Everybody's dry," he said with a laugh. "Nobody's flipped over."

Yorkers Jeremy Fatland, 25, and David Masemer, 28, have served in Iraq, Uganda and Afghanistan together. Part of the same Army unit, they returned home in March. As they paddled along Lake Williams, they stopped to reflect on what the fishing and kayaking event means to them as war vets.

"It's very peaceful and relaxing," said Masemer, of Hanover. "Hopefully it grows and gives people the opportunity to get together and branch out."

The two agreed they would definitely come to the next event - and even bring their friends.

"As far as other veterans, it's the only opportunity to meet them," said Fatland, of Springettsbury Township.

Giving back: The veterans came in from the water to partake in a grilled lunch but were eager to get back out there, Miller said.

Navy vet Steve DeFlavia, 34, of Elizabethtown, said he doesn't speak with vets much and is consistently the youngest person at the Lebanon VA Medical Center. But being on the water with other veterans was a peaceful break, he said.

"It was definitely nice to get out and do that," he said. He plans to bring his 10-year-old son to the next event.

Miller began the local chapter after working with the New Jersey chapter last year. He said Central Pennsylvania is perfect for an organization like this because of its number of veterans, and the accessibility of York County makes it a great place to gather.

"It's just a beautiful place; a great place to hold the event," he said.

Join in: The chapter plans to hold several events a year, and the next will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 7 at Pinchot Park, rain or shine. Veterans of all ages are welcome.

For updates and more information, visit the group's page, Heroes on the Water - Central Pennsylvania Chapter, on Facebook or email CentralPA@HeroesOnTheWater.org.

-Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.