Tom Herr has been fly fishing — and tying the flies used to do it — since he can remember.

His skills, and his heart, now give veterans an experience they won’t forget.

About eight years ago, Herr, a field manager for PPL Electric Utilities’ Harrisburg and Lancaster regions, got involved with an organization called Project Healing Waters.

Friends he knows through fishing in the Erie, Pa., area were starting a chapter of the group, dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities, including education and outings.

Since he started volunteering with Project Healing Waters, he’s taken dozens of vets on fly fishing trips. It’s peaceful on the water and during down time, he listens to their stories and lends an ear to their struggles, be they physical or psychological. “It can be quite emotional for them,” Herr said. “Being there with them, and listening, is important. It helps them heal.”

Herr, who is not a military veteran, said it wasn’t really a question of deciding if he wanted to help.  “If you have a skill, or you can set aside time to help someone, be they a veteran or someone who has lost someone in battle, why would you not do that?” he said.

Besides being on the water, Herr creates framed tributes for some of those he accompanies on the water. They always involve large, decorative flies he ties himself.blog-fly

He even makes them for those who have lost loved ones in battle and personally delivers them.  The last one, done with red, white and blue flies, took 13 hours to make and was delivered to a woman who lost her 26-year-old son in Afghanistan.

“It was really emotional,” he said of his special delivery.

On the weekend before Veterans Day, Herr was using his vacation time at a Veterans Administration hospital in Erie teaching some patients how to tie fishing flies. He was out on the water with heroes.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people,” Herr said, adding all have produced lasting friendships.  “It’s a great sense of satisfaction, being out there with our nation’s finest. These guys and girls are true heroes. Being part of their healing is really what it’s all about.”

For more information on Project Healing Waters, visit www.projecthealingwaters.org.