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Thieves Take Disabled Vets' Hunting Gear

Thieves shot down an effort by South Lyon volunteers to help disabled military veterans by stealing nearly $18,000 in equipment used to transport gear and veterans into the woods to hunt.

Swiped sometime between July 3 and 5 was a $4,000 unmarked, black custom enclosed trailer carrying a $13,800 Polaris six-person utility vehicle used by Operation Injured Soldiers volunteers.

Loran Symonds, 44, who injured his back lifting bombs onto Harrier jets in Baghdad, Iraq, and Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm, calls the outings "therapy." He describes the theft as "like walking up and spitting in someone's face."

"Vietnam veterans, those guys aren't able to walk long distances," said Symonds of McMillan. "(Soldiers) who are returning now who had it a lot worse than what I did -- with all the IEDs -- they're coming home with missing limbs. So this thing was like a lifeline. For someone to steal that, it's unbelievable."

Pamela Bijansky, one of the founders of Operation Injured Soldiers, said the trailer disappeared from outside the group's office at her dry-cleaning store, Parkside Cleaners, 22645 Pontiac Trail in South Lyon.

Two trailers next to the stolen trailer displayed the words "Operation Injured Soldiers," but the stolen trailer did not have the plastic signage applied.

"We hadn't raised the money to wrap it yet," she said, adding that the utility vehicle inside was marked with the organization's name. "Once they opened it up, they knew what it was."

She hopes guilt helps the thieves return -- or at least abandon -- the equipment.

"We need to replace them, but personally I'd rather just see someone dump it somewhere," Bijansky said. "People are out there looking. Keep your eyes open. Somebody has seen a new trailer appear next door or a new Ranger. Or it could be in Mississippi right now. But it's a 50-50 shot it's still in Michigan."

Operation Injured Soldiers connects with soldiers by word-of-mouth. Money raised through donations, motorcycle runs, golf outings and other events funds hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities for about 400 veterans in Michigan and another 400 nationwide.

The stolen Polaris was used the first time at the group's annual fall deer hunt in Mayville in December.

"It's more than going down and hunting," Symonds said about the trip. "There's things I've never told my wife or kids because I just don't talk about it. But when I go down there and I hear veterans talk about something and I've gone through the same thing, I'm able to open up and talk. What OIS is doing is a fantastic thing."

The case remains under investigation by the South Lyon Police Department, a spokeswoman said. Anyone who spots the stolen trailer or utility vehicle is asked to call 911 or their local police department.

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