HELENA – A Montana program aiming to honor wounded veterans recently brought two men from different wars together for a hunting excursion in Big Sky Country.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Gabriel Martinez lost both of his legs in Afghanistan to an improvised explosive device on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.
Cpl. Donald “Buck” Honold lost his lower right leg in 1966 while serving as a Marine sniper in Vietnam, and says his service went largely unrecognized when he came home.
Martinez, just 25, and Honold, now 71, went hunting in Montana’s Paradise Valley near Livingston last week as part of a program created by the 2013 Montana Legislature, Big Hearts under the Big Sky, that lets people donate a hunting license for combat veterans with a 70 percent or greater disability rating.
Hank Worsech, the licensing bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says it’s all designed to help with the healing process.
“In this case, we had two men from two different wars; one from the Vietnam War who was never recognized for his sacrifice, and one from the war in Afghanistan who came home and was hailed as a hero,” Worsech said.
Martinez lives in Colorado, Honold in Milwaukee.
For their hunting trip last week, their families’ met at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, an 8,000-acre resort south of Chico Hot Springs.
Usually, the ranch charges around $15,000 a week for a family. Martinez’s and Honold’s trips were covered by the ranch’s charitable foundation, started by ranch owner Arthur Blank, who co-founded Home Depot and owns the Atlanta Falcons football team.
Martinez said he was despondent immediately after his injuries, conjuring images of a future of helplessness. The morose outlook changed quickly, he said, after seeing other amputees charging forward.
He now mountain climbs, rafts raging rivers and is training for the Paralympics. Recently, he visited victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, hoping to help demonstrate the promise of life after amputation.
“I went to Boston to pay it forward,” Martinez said. “I wanted them to see me in my element, living life with two prostheses.”
Honold was an original member of the “Walking Dead” 1st Battalion, which suffered one of the highest casualty rates in Marine Corps history. He says he was shot 28 times and was hospitalized for almost a year after losing his lower right leg.
One thing that ties him to Martinez is his fighting spirit.
“When I got home, I made a promise to myself that my injuries weren’t going to change me,” Honold said. “I was a meat cutter before I went in, and when I came out I got my own meat shop in Milwaukee.”
When the two veterans shook hands for the first time, Honold said the years slipped away.
They were just two guys trying to bag an elk.
“I know there’s quite a difference in age for the two of us, but that didn’t make any difference in this trip,” Honold said.