Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day

A couple of months ago, as my kids and I were passing through Connecticut on our way home from a family trip, I got the urge to visit the place where,

  • By: Paul Guernsey
A couple of months ago, as my kids and I were passing through Connecticut on our way home from a family trip, I got the urge to visit the place where, some 38 years ago, I caught my first trout. My first three trout actually-all native brookies, and all taken from a small pool in the same tea-color brook where my father had caught his own first fish as a child. I was 10 at the time, and Dad had spent that entire April day with me, pointing out all his favorite spots.

I took Nick and Kat, 9 and 6 years old, for a walk through the woods, and we did find that pool. The last 10 yards were tough going; It was so muddy I had to carry my daughter, and the three of us got raked by the dense briars that had grown up as if to protect the place. Once we stood on its bank, I immediately noted that the pool, never large to begin with, had filled in so much it was unlikely any self-respecting brookie, no matter how small, would want to live there any longer.

Still, I was able to tell my kids, "Guys, this is where I caught my first trout."

My thoughts, though, were not so much on trout as on my father. I thought about the bit of enchantment he and I shared in this nondescript spot long decades ago, and I thought about a lot more as well. One of the main things about Dad was that in the War, he had been a forward observer for a company of howitzers-a scary job that came attached to a three-day life expectancy. His luck lasted for about seven months before he was wounded and almost killed by a German sniper. (His name was Clifford Guernsey, and that's his photo up in the corner, taken in Paris a few days before he went into the Battle of the Bulge.) While some veterans prefer to remain silent about their wartime experiences, my father talked about his incessantly. The war was a large part of who he was, and he wanted everyone to know it, and those who knew it not to forget it.

As it happens, Bil Monan, the winner of this year's Robert Traver Fly-Fishing Fiction Competition, was also thinking of his father when he wrote his story, "The Surrender." (You'll find our introduction to this award-winning story on page xxxx.)

Bil's father fought in the war and then returned home to, among other things, have a son, and teach him to fish. But the war apparently remained as large a part of Monan, Sr.'s life as it was for my dad. The Monans, father and son, have actually visited the beaches at Normandy together. Unfortunately, Bil tells us that his father is now in poor health, and cannot travel or fish much anymore.

My own father has been gone now for 12 years. In fact, the World War II guys are currently leaving us at the rate of about a thousand a day, and it's clear there won't be many of them around in 10 years to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

A lot of the older veterans who are left-and I'm including the guys from Korea, and some of the Viet Nam vets as well-really enjoy fishing, but have a hard time getting out on their own anymore. If you know someone like this, I think it would be a terrific gesture to take him out to the local water some time for a half day of fishing.

Not only is this the least any of us can do for men who have done so much for us, but you might hear some stories…