Author's forward:

I've had a surprising number of questions and requests from readers and friends regarding a story that was published here in TSFMag several years ago. Folks wanted to know: Where did the battles the old man was remembering take place, and, just who was the old man? Our editor has agreed to reprint the story.

In my mind, the old man was my great uncle, William Pearson Laughter, USMC, 4th Marine Raiders. The 4th Marine Raiders became 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines when the four Marine Raider battalions were combined to reform the 4th Marine Regiment which had been lost on Corregidor, and then finally became part of the 6th Marine Division.

Pierce, as he was known to his family and friends, fought in battles all over the South Pacific during World War II and then made his last landing on the island of Okinawa on Easter Sunday 1945. A lot of what I wrote I learned from the diary he kept throughout his military and combat experience and also from my mother. I tried to include some of what I had learned about him in the story.

Pierce died from wounds received in combat on June 21, 1945, the day the Japanese surrendered the island of Okinawa. So of course the old man in the story could not have been Pierce, but part of Pierce's story is in there. I certainly would have loved knowing him and wade fishing with him.

His old body wouldn't stand slopping around in mud all morning. Slipping from the boat, he smiled as his feet found hard bottom. Making an adjustment to his lower back, he gathered his gear and was on his way.

He waded slowly and cast only when something caught his attention. There were no unnecessary movements, no casting to nothingness, his arm would wear out much too soon.

He glanced toward the sandy shoreline and gazed upon the old rusty hull beached there and in an instant he was taken somewhere else, to another place in time.

The LST was moving forward through huge swells near the beach. There wasn't much action and he was thankful there were no bullets ricocheting off the LST's hull or mortar rounds exploding; sounds he had heard too many times in the last three years. They had expected heavy resistance and they weren't getting it. It was way too quiet and that bothered him. Some were elated as the lack of fire bolstered their courage and took away fear but it bothered him. He thought it a bad omen; then again, maybe it was God's hand, being Easter Sunday and all.

He remembered his fascination with the beauty of the South Pacific islands. On one island, after a hard-fought battle, he found several quiet lagoons untouched by the war. The clear water revealed tropical fish and he was amazed at their colors. Oh how he had wished for a rod and reel but that wasn't part of his Marine Raider gear. He fashioned a fishhook from a seashell and tied it to a bit of string but the colorful fish wouldn't have it. Being a Marine, he adapted and figured a way to get a good mess of fish for the guys. Deviled ham from a C-Ration brought them together and a hand grenade in their midst made them catch of the day.

A different kind of explosion brought him back; a fat yellow-mouthed trout angrily shook her head trying to dislodge the lure in her jaw. He fought her until she tired and then slid a weathered hand under her belly to press her against his leg. He slipped the fish onto his stringer and retied the lure as he moved slowly along. He stumbled as his foot tangled in oysters. He was glad he didn't fall. He didn't need another pair of ruined waders or another visit to the doctor. As he picked his way across the reef the crunching of the shell drew him back into the past.

The razor sharp coral cut through his boots and he used the BAR to break his fall, as he scrambled to find cover from the snipers hidden high above. Seconds passed like hours as he struggled to reach safety at the base of the cliffs that rose sharply from the beach. He thanked God he was still alive. Looking back at the beach, the landing crafts continued to unload Marines as sniper and machine fire rattled against their steel hulls and taking the lives of fellow Marines. A fin sliced through a wave near the body of a Marine and he shuddered as it was pulled under. Averting his eyes, he checked for damage. The stock of the BAR had been deeply gouged but still fully operational. His boots were sliced to ribbons and blood was seeping from his cuts. Looking around he did what he had to do and was soon lacing a pair borrowed from a comrade who would no longer need them. Turning again toward the sea, his mind rescued him from the carnage with a temporary image of fishing with his father.

Crossing the reef, he found the bottom softer but still an easy wade. The fish were up shallower than he expected reminding him again that trout use harder bottoms, even in winter. A cast into a foot of water was met with a swirl and the sound of his drag being tested by a nice redfish. Man how he wished the star drag had been around in his youth. How well he remembered the times he had blistered his thumb fighting strong reds.

He slowed his rate of fire and adjusted his grip on the big rifle as the BAR's barrel burned his thumb. The enemy was fighting from a cave and he was laying covering fire for the demo unit until someone brought up a .30 cal. to relieve him. The flamethrowers spit their fiery breath into the cave and he prayed the horror of war would end and there would be no more.

He offered the same prayer as he landed the redfish and released it to fight again. Here it was, a new millennium, and we were at war again. Some of his friend's grandsons were over there now fighting because their country needed them. Still, he hoped it would end soon and those boys could come home safe. He had lost so many friends during his service, friends who had at one time or another saved his life and he theirs, and he missed them. Freedom, he thought, comes at an enormous cost.

He glanced at his watch; he was going to be late for church. He was always late when he went fishing on Sunday morning she would say, and she would be right. But after all, today was a special. It was Easter Sunday. Many Easters long ago he was somewhere else, somewhere he thought he would probably remain. But he made it through, and in June when the Japanese surrendered the island, he thought he would finally be able to go home. But soon there was scuttlebutt that said we were going to invade the islands of Japan and the combat tour of all servicemen would be extended. Then a couple of bombs were used to accomplish what he and so many other brave young men were unable to do they ended the war and allowed him to climb aboard a ship back to the states.

Going home is what he had to do right now if he knew what was good for him. As he waded to the shore for the easy walk back to his boat he started to make one more cast but then thought better of it. She would be waiting and she had waited on him enough through the years.

As he passed the old rusty hull on his way back to the boat he felt his mind being drawn back to another place in time but he forced himself to remain in the present. God willing, he would have more mornings to himself when he could remember things he had seen and done and when he could remember and visit silently with those who hadn't made it home.

Be safe, and please remember to support our troops.