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OOA founder honored by the American Legion

By Staff | Aug 10, 2009

As an honorably discharged Marine officer and founder of Operation Open Arms, Capt. John “Giddyup” Bunch, a St. James City resident, was recently presented a life membership into the American Legion. This rare honor was bestowed upon Bunch for his continued dedication to our nation’s military. The presenter of the honor was Richard S. Haines, commander of American Legion Post 0135 in Naples. In a written presentation he said, “In recognition of his unselfish service to our troops via Operation Open Arms, we are proud to name Captain John ‘Giddyup’ Bunch as an honorary life member. At our discretion, we bestow this honor on select members of the community for their extraordinary contribution to those who serve our country. Operation Open Arms is now an integral part of our post, Naples and Collier County.”
The life member award is presented only on very rare occasions and Bunch was humbled by the honor.
“‘On rare occasions’ says everything about this honor. Operation Open Arms offers each one of us an opportunity to serve our country via tangible acts of kindness,” said Bunch. “U.S. troops on combat leave and those returning from foreign duty stations across the globe now come to Lee County for their R and R. Imagine stepping off an airplane from Iraq or Afghanistan and being whisked away in a free limo, to a free hotel and then to a free restaurant with your family.
“The average one-week stay with all the benefits is now worth $4,500,” he continued. “In five years, OOA has never denied benefits to any eligible U.S. serviceman or servicewoman. Maybe this played to the hand of the American Legion bestowing this honor. I enjoy demonstrating my love of country, not just talking about it. My focus, perhaps for the rest of my life, will be to support U.S. troops in any and every manner possible.”
Bunch also recognized the first soldier he took on a complimentary fishing trip which led to the creation of OOA.
“I’m not sure Army Spc. Travis Downs, the son of Pine Island resident Joanie Bearden, will ever understand the impact he has made on Southwest Florida history,” Bunch said. “If Travis hadn’t asked me where to go fishing before he had returned to Iraq, two sitting presidents would never have come to Fort Myers and paid tribute to Operation Open Arms. There would be no OOA and maybe ‘for God and country’ applies here.”
In addition to the life membership to the American Legion, OOA also has been recognized by several congressmen and senators and by presidents Bush and Obama.
In addition to serving U.S. troops on combat leave, OOA recently accepted the Wounded Warrior program into the fold of benefits. This also includes the first pro bono, the private Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Mental Health Network, which offers professional counseling to soldiers suffering from PTSD. For this effort, OOA was again featured on the “Today” show. This was the second time OOA has been featured on the nationally broadcast television program.
With the Wounded Warrior program, OOA will offer the same benefits to wounded soldiers who were not able to take R and R due to their injuries as those soldiers who are in the Lee County area on temporary combat leave.
OOA was first founded by Bunch five years ago and rapidly grew from a handful of charter captains offering free fishing excursions to a host of other contributions such as free golf, bowling, restaurant dining, hotel lodging, hair cuts, professional sporting event tickets, parasailing, weddings, clothing and much more.
To learn more about OOA, visit: operationopenarms.com