On Memorial Day, I drove down to Balls Eddy to fish the West Branch of the Delaware. The fishing access, a broad parking area with a boat launch on the “eddy”, or pool, is adjacent to a cemetery. As I pulled in to the access, I was greeted by the sight of at least 20 cars and my initial reaction was; “it sure is going to be crowded on the river today”, but very quickly after that selfish thought, I realized what was about to take place there.
I parked and donned my waders, got my gear in order, set up my rod, and watched a small gathering of people on the other side of the stone wall that surrounds the cemetery. A color guard assembled and at 8:30 and began its solemn march into the cemetery. The colors waved in the light morning air and I could hear the cadence call of the honor guard leader. Soon the color guard was positioned in front of the onlookers and some prayers were said along with a tribute to the fallen. A salute was fired; several volleys cracked the cool morning air and echoed off the hills, and then what followed was the mournful cry of a bugle singing Taps…
I left the car afterward, and headed downriver to the run I love to nymph. I fished all morning, lost a few good fish, caught a few smaller ones, and finally, in the early afternoon with the sun pouring down from bluebird skies, landed a beautiful rainbow.
Returning back to the parking access, my mind once again drifted off to the Memorial Day services I had witnessed as I dressed to fish. What came to mind was my father’s own service in Korea, and that of other relatives; my brother-in-law (Navy), my father-in-law (Army), my mother’s father (Navy) and that of even more distant relatives. And I thought of my own service in the Navy and then names I would never forget. These were the fallen of the USS Stark, FFG-31, a ship I helped commission as a young Ensign and one on which I served proudly the first six years of her service in the Fleet.
Roughly a year after I left the Navy, I watched in horror on the evening news, as this same ship – my ship – was listing sharply to port, smoke belching out of her, somewhere in that vast hot expanse that is the Persian Gulf. I was horrified, dumbstruck, and speechless that evening…
37 crewmen were killed in the attack on the Stark. The ones I remember clearly were Foster, a senior chief quartermaster, who left 8 children behind; DeAngelis, a smart young kid with the kind of wit and humor that made the crew roar – the kid from Dumont, NJ – one who grew up not far from my own home; and Kiser, another senior chief petty officer – tall and lanky as Ichabod Crane – and a pillar of wisdom for the engineering crew.
So I left Balls Eddy and drove up the dusty river road, with all of that going through my head. As I drove, the river ran below me, cool and lovely green. I crossed the Hale Eddy bridge where a broad, fast riffle spills into a long and deep pool and where a few fisherman stood, some casting, and some looking for risers. I watched them there, enjoying the peace that is fly fishing, and I wondered if they too had remembered…
In Flanders Field
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872 – 1918)
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.