NORTH ANSON – For the third year in a row, the booming sound of thousands of machine-gun rounds acted as therapy for a group of wounded veterans and gun enthusiasts Sunday.

Williams Machine Gun Range held its third annual Wounded Warrior Machine Gun Shoot, which has grown in each year of its existence.

“A friend of mine came to me two days before Christmas a couple years ago and said, ‘Hey, how would you like to make some combat-wounded guys have a really good Christmas?”‘ said Andy Williams, owner of Williams Machine Gun Range. “There were six or eight of them. I let them shoot my guns and gave them the ammo and it was all for free.”

Since that inaugural shoot, Williams lined up sponsors, moved the event to summer, added a barbecue, a raffle and made it a day-long event.

“What could be better use for the guns than combat-wounded guys that deserve it shooting them — and they miss shooting them,” Williams said. “I can’t think of a better way to use them.”

Thousands of rounds of ammunition were lined up on a table, either in 100-round belts or 30-round magazines. A variety of fully automatic weapons, including a Gatling gun, lined a range with some hollowed-out cars and targets downfield. After each round of fire, the range turned into a dusty cloud, as the smell of gunpowder permeated the range.

“Today is about honoring them,” Williams said of the wounded warriors in attendance, prior to the first round of shooting. “We have a lot of true patriots here. A lot of fighting men came from Maine and I’m proud of that.”

Williams said that being able to use the weaponry a person used during service can be therapeutic, in the right environment.

“What we’re trying to do is associate the gunfire with good feelings, instead of the battlefield,” he said. “What this is, is getting past post-traumatic stress.

“If they can get past it, they will be in a much better place.”

The event has grown from a half-dozen or so veterans in 2011, up to 17 in 2012 and 19 this year — with veterans coming from Machias to Poland.

Nick Richards, 40, is a Winslow firefighter who served in the Navy from 1996 to 2000 in the Persian Gulf. While the lineup of automatic weapons was eye-popping to most in the crowd, it was nothing new to him.

Richards said he went to dozens of gun ranges with his father while he was growing up, yet he stopped going to shooting ranges after his father died in 2006.

“I haven’t touched anything like this in seven years,” he said. “I would shoot with him all my life. He passed away and I just kind of stopped doing it.”

Richards said his brother, who works for the Veterans Association Center, told him about the event and convinced him to come.

“My brother dragged me — not literally — to this and just seeing all these people that I know and haven’t seen since I was doing this with my dad kind of helped make me get over it,” he said. “It felt good.”

Richards said it’s the group dynamic the event provided that makes something that once caused so much pain and terror in someone’s life become therapeutic.

“The camaraderie is the big thing,” he said. “I’m not saying all of them, but the last time some of these guys shot a gun, they were fighting for their lives. It’s nice shooting when no one is shooting back at you.”

Williams said he hopes the event continues, but the price of ammunition is making it difficult. He was able to get a number of sponsors to donate money for ammunition, and the entry fee was $20, but he’s hoping he can continue to put on an event to help wounded veterans from all over the state.

“One guy gave me a big hug,” he said. “I had never met him before.”

Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

jscardina@mainetoday.com