Jack Perch and ‘The Greatest Generation’…
It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather we should thank God that such men lived.
George S. Patton, Jr.
Yellow perch are a blue collar species of fish, and I write that with praise. They show up for work in their green-barred overalls trimmed in bright yellow as if they’re ready to watch a Green Bay Packers game.
They are the quintessential working man’s fish species; reliable as a quartz clock, massing in large schools, and endearing bait and lure anglers alike for their willingness to strike nearly anything that happens to scoot by their snouts. What they lack in size they most certainly make up for with a feisty attitude on the hook, and even better, their ability to grace the plates of anglers looking for deliciously mild fish. In some northern locales they are regular menu fare. I enjoyed some of them myself this summer while fishing with a good high school friend in the Thousand Islands.
I’d tangled with yellow perch in my spin angling days, but I’d never heard of ‘jack perch’ until I met John, a coworker and good friend. John’s father, Richard, a life-long Buffalo resident, fished for them in the Niagara River. Turns out, the jack perch is a bigger badder yellow perch, meaning that Richard preferred his perch on the big side.
John and I worked together a number of years, then went our separate ways to the call of different jobs, different careers. As is often the case these days, one must leave home to keep employed, and that’s just what John did, leaving New York to continue employment in Florida. We have kept in touch to this day, and until recently, I’d always ask about his father, Richard, and his pursuit of jack perch.
As he got into his 90’s, Richard’s health declined. John would tell me how he didn’t fish any more, but he’d still park by the river and watch others fish. And then came emails reporting hospitalization – good days and bad days – and finally, Richard’s passing.
In the aftermath, John shared a picture of his dad with a stringer of perch. He looked the part – a true fisherman – not all ‘tweedy’ as they say in some fly fishing circles. Plain and simple as the fish he pursued.
But there was more I never knew about the man who loved jack perch. He learned the building trades as a young man and then in 1942, answered the call to war and enlisted in the Army Air Force. He joined what I believe to be a version of the Navy Seabees – a combat engineering and construction unit that built the airbases from which the United States waged war – the 818th Engineer Battalion (Aviation), or EAB.
John shared a copy of his father’s discharge papers, and quite frankly, I was blown away by what I read. Under a section entitled ‘Battles and Campaigns’, was listed; Ardennes, Central Europe, Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland. For those not schooled in military history, his unit participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the campaigns to take back Northern France, the Battle of the Bulge (Hitler’s last attempt to break through the Allied assault in what was considered the impenetrable Ardennes Forest), and the final assault of Germany. Indeed, according to what I read on one website on the 818th EAB…
This battalion landed on Utah beach on June 30th, and followed advancing armies through France to Luxembourg and to the Nancy area, engaging in the construction of 18 airfields. In the “Bulge” area, the unit was forced to mine and guard their installations. Y-46 at Aachen was one of the first fields in Germany, and the 818th built 12 S and E strips east of the Rhine.
During 3 precious years of his youth, Richard no doubt grew up quickly. He fought in the most historic battles of World War II, participating in the great struggle to defeat a tyrant who nearly enslaved the world. In doing so he witnessed the absolute best and worst of mankind. Then he was honorably discharged and returned to Buffalo where he married and raised a family, worked, went to church, watched Buffalo sports teams, and, … fished for jack perch. Richard was 95 years old when his heart finally gave out and another member of ‘The Greatest Generation’ left us for the final call. I know he is bank-side once again, watching a bobber float down flowing waters, surrounded by those who left this good earth before him.