OUTDOORS: Outdoor column: Going to sea with some who have been to war

June 14, 2012 4:26 PM
Ed Wall
Special to the Sun Journal

Ed Wall/Special to the Sun Journal
A beautiful day, a big fish and good friends - it just doesn't get much better.
On the surface, Hank Colton and Greg Mosher would appear to have little in common. The former is an octogenarian who lives in the Craven County community of Fairfield Harbor. Like many of us on the other side of middle-age, he moves a little slowly and sometimes has to pause to gather his thoughts and energy before moving on. Mosher is twenty-something, a native of Boston, Mass. who grew up in Florida. He is a powerfully-built young man who looks like he could play linebacker for any number of football teams. True to his appearance, Mosher loves all kinds of sports and is a recent convert to golf.

As different as the two men seem to be, they have some things in common. One is both Colton and Mosher are warriors. The elder man fought in an artillery unit in World War II, working in forward locations, often under fire, to set up sensors that could detect the location of German guns. Six decades later, Mosher drove big trucks in Iraq and Afghanistan, hauling heavy equipment where it was needed by his fellow Marines. The magnitude of the vehicles he commanded made him a prime target for the Taliban and especially the insidious IEDs (improvised explosive devices) they hide along roadways.


Both men have felt the numbing fear that comes with combat and lived with the fatigue that is part of being in the field for weeks or months on end. They have seen comrades wounded and killed in action, and breathed sighs of relief when they themselves made it through yet one more day. They know the empty feeling of being separated from their loved ones for what seems like an eternity while fighting a war in a distant land.


Colton and Mosher have another common denominator, though. They both love fishing. That is what brought them together one morning recently. The Fairfield Harbour Fishing Club held their second annual Wounded Warrior Fishing Day onboard the Capt. Stacy headboat and at the Ft. Macon Coast Guard Station. Colton was one of the club members who hosted the event while Mosher was one of twenty-two Wounded Warriors who were the club's guests.


The Fairfield Harbour Fishing Club was formed in 2003 by residents of the community and others who get together for fun, fellowship, fishing and, at least once a year, an activity that benefits some other group. For the past two years, that group has been the Wounded Warriors, servicemen who have been injured while serving in the military and are involved in rehabilitation. Part of their journey back to productive, independent living is learning new skills and, in many cases, reconnecting with some that they enjoyed in earlier years. The Wounded Warrior Reconditioning Program includes activities in the rehabilitative process that are both challenging and fun things like fishing.


Most of the young Marines who joined the Fairfield Harbour Fishing Club members on the Capt. Stacy had grown up fishing with their families and friends. It most cases, it was a little different from bottom fishing for reef species in the Atlantic. Most of the fishing Dale Zaboroskie had done back in Tacoa, Georgia was for largemouth bass, panfish and catfish. He adapted quickly, however, to the special techniques required on a headboat. After a two-hour run offshore, he and the other anglers, baited up bottom rigs with small pieces of Boston mackerel and let the heavy weights fall to the bottom. In just a few moments, there were declarations of "I've got one" all along the boat's rail. Heavy boat rods bent as fishermen cranked in black sea bass, groupers, ring-tailed porgies and other species. The boat's mates were kept busy, unhooking fish, releasing those that were below the legal size limit, helping anglers put those that were going to be kept on stringers, and offering tips and advice wherever needed. The banter among the anglers, some young others not-so-young was almost constant. They laughed, joked, poked fun and "oohed and aahed" when a hefty grouper came onboard. The scene was a world away, both literally and figuratively, from the one that had led the young Marines there.


As the Capt. Stacy motored to another fishing spot, a young man named Brandon stared out across the blue swells toward the Cape Lookout lighthouse in the far distance. He may have been thinking about his tour in Afghanistan where he carried a .50 cal. machine gun in the field, at least until his encounter with yet another of the IEDs. Or he may have been remembering his days growing up in Wisconsin. In any case, it was obvious that he was in a good place on this day, mentally, physically and emotionally, which is what the outing was all about.


After two hours of fishing, the young Marines and their hosts returned to the dock with heavy coolers and then travelled down the road to Coast Guard Ft. Macon, where staff at that base had set up a large tent and tables for a waterfront dinner. Barbecue, chicken and all the trimmings, including a large cake commemorating the day, were a fitting way to conclude the event. More meaningful, though, for most of those in attendance even more so than the fishing and the food were the smiles and handshakes that were shared. One young Marine who had to use a cane to get around, shook a couple of the hosts' hands, and then gave each one a big hug. A few of the old guys were swallowing hard.


Bob Bruggeworth of the Fairfield Harbour Fishing Club said the organization has a lot of activities during the year but the annual Wounded Warrior Fishing Day is definitely a highlight.


"It's not a hardship for us," Bruggeworth explained. "It's a lot of fun and a real honor to give just a little back to some of America's heroes who have given so much for the rest of us." He said the Capt. Stacy, Coast Guard Station Ft. Macon and various businesses in Craven County who support the club's efforts are instrumental in them being able to put on such events.


Of course, it goes without saying, that many things we enjoy today would not be possible if not for young men and women like the Wounded Warriors, and for those who came before like Hank Colton. Even if they were not all Marines, they exemplify the meaning of "Semper Fi."