Many years ago while working as a newspaper journalist, I was assigned to cover The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial—"The Wall"—located in Washington, D.C. This tribute lists the names of the fallen soldiers from that war. On it I found the name of my dad's best friend and best man at his wedding, Sgt. Albert F. Lupoli, Jr. I was still a know-it-all early-20-something who had never served, but seeing his name and the seemingly infinite listing of 58,194 others up close and then interviewing the visiting veterans stuck with me. The idea of what a soldier does for us really hit home.
I had gained a new appreciation for how good I had it and, more importantly, what freedom costs. The desire to give back to those who served in the armed forces surged in me, but I wasn't sure how it was possible beyond the thank yous I would offer when I came across a serviceman at an airport or on the street.
While a thank you was nice, it didn't seem sufficient. But last February I came across a Web site called Take a Soldier Fishing. It helps boaters and anglers connect with soldiers who would like to wet a line.
I offered up my boat and posted my contact information for soldiers interested in fishing the New York area.
I soon received an e-mail from Sgt. Aaron Hackett from the Army's 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, near Watertown, New York. Hackett, who has four children, had already completed a one-year tour of duty in Iraq and was slated for another in October. Knowing he wouldn't see his five- and six-year-old boys, Colby and Chance, for another year, he asked if I could take him and his sons fishing for a day. Of course, my response was, "Let's go!"
We set up the trip for early May so we'd get the boys, who'd never fished in salt water, a chance at some nice striped bass. My brother Chip and I readied our 31 Ocean Master, Expeditor, for the two-day weekend on the water with Hackett, his two boys, and another guest soldier, Specialist Dan Buazard, also a father of four, who'd completed a one-year tour in Afghanistan and is also going to Iraq this fall.
The wind was howling on the first day, but Chip and I knew an inshore spot that was holding bass. And thankfully the fish gods were with us. Over the few hours of fishing, our guests scored ten hungry stripers and a few spider crabs, which seemed to fascinate Chance and Colby more than the fish. Buazard, a Sunday morning ESPN fishing-show diehard and freshwater bass angler, happily battled a 30-inch keeper for dinner, the biggest fish of his angling career and the day's pool winner, too. Several feisty bluefish rounded out the day for our now-seasoned saltwater anglers.
Chance and Colby seemed pretty excited about the whole boating experience; in fact, they said they wanted to buy my boat. When the brothers showed up on the second morning, they proudly displayed their boat-buying savings, which came out to $0.47. They asked if it was enough. I said it was a great down payment. Naturally, being inquisitive boat buyers, they wanted to drive her.
After some animated sibling discussions about who was going to drive first, we flipped a coin. In the end both boys got some wheel time and turned out to be natural sea dogs (hope they won't tell their career-Army dad they're going Navy).
We headed out on day two for some inshore fluke action, and again the fish appeared. Seeing the two boys catching fish and our two guest soldiers relaxing and just having a good ol' time opened my eyes to something that I've been a little out of touch with since being consumed by competitive fishing lately.
The scene was cosmic, folding over a seam in time and reminding me of a childhood spent on my dad's boat. There we were, just fishing for the sake of being on the water, living in the moment, and absolutely excited about whatever was on the line. There was no money to win and no 800-pound marlin to chase, it was just time with the family—a priceless moment for sure.
But like all good things, our two days on the water were nearing their all-too-soon finale. Hackett said that he and Buazard would be back from their tour in October 2009. So we've made plans for another trip for them and the boys when they come home.
Before leaving, our guests were kind enough to present Chip and me with a 10th Mountain flag, Division medals, and some commemorative dinars (Iraqi currency). These gifts were great, but to me the real present was sharing our enthusiasm for fishing.
In fact, while I was trying to give back to these soldiers, they inadvertently gave me back something that had been tucked a bit too deep in my memory over the years.
So, to Sgt. Aaron Hackett and Specialist Dan Buazard, thank you for your service, stay safe, and know that you'll always have a place onboard Expeditor. (And yes, Colby drives first next time.)
Get all of your up-to-date sportfishing news at Capt. Patrick Sciacca's Web site, Tournament Angler.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.