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Rotary Happenings: Veteran advocate discusses southwest Florida charity

By Staff | Oct 29, 2014

Operation Open ArmsIn the latter part of the Vietnam war and for a long time after, our American troops were often treated with disdain for serving in Vietnam.

Last week’s Rotary guest speaker, John “Giddy Up” Bunch, knows this all too well. John spoke of his own experience: the year was 1971, wearing his 1st/Lt. US Marine Corps uniform, he was walking through the Washington, D.C., airport where he was called names and spit on by Vietnam war protesters. Oh, he just didn’t let that go; there was an altercation, but it left an indelible impression that made him promise to himself that one day he would figure out a way to treat American men and women who serve our country better than he had been treated that day.

After serving in the Marines, John’s career path took multiple directions, first working for IBM and, when that ended, touring with the PGA and, more currently, as one of the most successful and well-known fishing guides in southwest Florida charter fishing captain John “Giddy Up” Bunch.

John is called “Giddy Up” for a reason but he never explained that, he just kept mentioning that he was living the life over on Fort Myers Beach, a bachelor with only himself to care aboutand when he said thatthere was a smile on his face. A selfish life, as he said.

Well, that selfish life was about to change in 2005. A chance encounter at a Fort Myers Beach bar would see to that. US Army Spc. Travis Downes approached John with a simple questionhe wanted to know where he could do some fishing from the beach or pier before he had to go back to Iraq. John thought for a while and then came his a-ha moment, his Oprah moment. If Travis and his father could meet him in Pine Island, he would take them out on his boat to fish. Travis told him he couldn’t afford to rent a fishing charter. John told him, no, the trip was on him. Bunch knew that this was the way he could keep that promise he made to himself a long time ago, to give back, if only in a small way, to the troops that serve our country.

And 2005 was the beginning of Operation Open Arms. John called on many of his fishing guide friends, hotels, restaurant, wedding venues in the area for help with his long-ago promise to himself, that one day he would figure out a way to treat American men and women who serve our country with dignity and respect for the sacrifices they have made to protect us.

Operation Open Arms offers local businesses, associations, and individuals an opportunity to support our active duty troops. They are an all-volunteer 501(c)3 charity in southwest Florida. Since its founding in 2005, OOA has provided nearly 3,000 troops and their families one-week paid vacations valued at $3,500. It also has arranged over 100 weddings, each with a value of $18,000. A more recent service extended to vets by Operation Open Arms is their dedication to the care and treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). With the help of mental health professionals in the area, OOA is providing some services to those returning vets with PTSD.

With many local and national accolades for OOA, its sponsors and personally for John “Giddy Up” Bunch, Operation Open Arms has been noted to be an amazingly successful nonprofit. Still, it needs your help to lighten the hearts and minds of our brave troops. Most all of the services are donated but there are always incidental expenses and boat captains are sometimes given gas money for charters. Donations are accepted on their website.

John did mention that he understands the Rotary motto “Service Above Self” and that is exactly what Operation Open Arms is aboutthis is a real service that makes a difference in the lives of our troops.

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets every Friday morning at 7 a.m. for breakfast at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. Guests are always welcomed.