November 11th is Veterans day and this is a story I feel is appropriate to share. This month (with apologies to Otis Redding) Sittin’ with Doc on the Bay, watchin’ the tide roll in… and we’ll watch it roll away again. I hope he and I will watch it together many times from many places. This tale is my poor attempt to tell a piece of one friend’s story.
As you all know, for many of us that served in our country’s uniform, wars don’t end when we get back to the land of the big PX. Memories and demons followed us home, and all of us deal with them in our own way. I’ve lost several friends to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) over the years. Some through their own intervention, and some more slowly through drug and alcohol abuse.
My friend Doc, whom I hadn’t seen in about four years, and knew had been dealing with PTSD, is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam during both Tet Offensives of 1968 and 1969. I was there for one Tet, and that was more than enough for me! We had never really swapped “war stories,” but I knew that he hadn’t served with a unit “back in the rear with the gear” as we used to say.
I had heard that he’d sort of been living life in a holding pattern. Last week he called me out of the blue and told me that he needed to do something. He wanted to try kayak fishing and asked if I had the time to take him out. So, we set up the date and time, and his “You want to meet at what time?” question was priceless! I don’t think he’d seen that time of the morning in years, except maybe to answer nature’s call.
We put our boats in along the road at Indian Bay near Aripeka at close to first light–a great day began! As we paddled out and watched the sunrise, I knew that Doc was hooked. He was in awe of the beauty I see on every trip and he remarked, “God put this here for all of us!” “How could I have missed it for all these years?”
We paddled past a manatee and Diamondback terrapins, saw dolphins frolicking in the bay and watched as an Osprey dove for mullet and did that mid-air shake to dry off after its dive. It seemed like every time I’d start paddling to try a new spot, Doc was sitting there with a blissful smile on his face. He’d say, “OK, we can move if you want, but I’m fine right here.”
Once in a while, you get to see something special through someone else’s eyes. That happened for me all day long with Doc. Sure, we caught fish, but that seemed secondary. It was as if we both knew that this was just the beginning of better times to come.
As the day progressed, he said something to me that I will never forget as a guide, as a person and as a Vet, “This is the first time I’ve felt alive in three years, and the best day I’ve had in ten,” he said. Talk about a day to remember! I love you, Doc! Semper Fi.
When we finished the day, he tried to hand me money, but I said, “No, this was for you.” His comment was, “Bruce, I’ve got money, but I don’t have enough in the bank to pay you for what you did for me today.”
Later that week we found him his own yak. I guess I can stand one more guy fishing my spots. How I keep taking out charters and ending up with new fishing buddies I don’t know, but I know that I’m richer for it; and I don’t mean money!
I share this in honor of veteran’s day and in response to all those that “take a knee,” I will always respect the flag and honor those who fought and died to give us our freedom!
Many thanks to all who served! God bless each and every one of you!