On June 6, 1944 the greatest amphibious military invasion in history was staged on the beaches of Normandy, France.
Beginning that day, 132,715 Allied troops disembarked from naval vessels to join 20,000 airborne soldiers who had already landed behind German lines. An estimated 10,000 of those men were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action. That event – D-Day – changed the tide of World War II and, without any doubt, the history of world. It was the spearhead of a military campaign with the code name “Operation Overlord.”
Seventy-five years later to the day another event took place, this one much smaller and with a more benign focus. Called “Operation North State,” it involved about four dozen military veterans and an equal number of others – support staff and volunteers. And, its intent was not to invade enemy-held territory. It was to catch fish. Or, to be more precise, to provide a positive, fun, supportive experience for military personnel classified as Wounded Warriors or Disabled Veterans.
Operation North State (ONS) is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization started in 1995 that offers “… unique military support service programs for North Carolina’s deployed troops and veterans-in-need.” For nine years ONS has operated its NCCARES Christmas Box Project, sending 1500 Christmas boxes to North Carolina deployed troops.
For much of that same time, the organization has hosted fishing trips at various sites across the state for individuals who have been injured while serving in the military or veterans who have been deemed “disabled” as a consequence of their
service. According to Terry Snyder, the founder of ONS, it’s simply a way for others to say “thank you” to those who have fought to protect our freedom and to give a few who might be limited in some way a chance to fellowship with fellow
veterans and others who enjoy the outdoors.
Snyder said recently that the idea for Operation North State occurred to him one day when he heard a couple of individuals complaining about some shortcoming they saw in the Veterans’ Administration. He said his response was, “Well, if you
don’t like what’s being done, why don’t we do something different.” And, he set about doing just that.
Snyder has served on various non-profit boards in the past and has a business background in sales and marketing. He owns and operates a business called Kicks and Grins – Replacement Flags in Winston Salem but his real calling is supporting our state’s military personnel and, whenever possible, doing that through promoting North Carolina’s “People, Places, Products and Pride.”
Operation North State’s angling ventures involve eight events at various locations. In recent years, five have been held at rivers or lakes in the piedmont and western part of the state and three in the coastal plain. The Neuse River and its ibutaries have been the location of one of those for the past five years. Referred to as one of the ONS’s “Top Shelf Fishin’ Festivals,” the recent outing involved 45 Wounded Warriors/Disabled Vets signing up for a day on the water with an equal
number of host boaters and, for five who needed them, caregivers. There was no cost to anyone involved; fishing licenses, tackle and equipment, snacks – everything was provided for the participants. The only thing host boaters were responsible for was fishing vessels and having a good time with their guests. They fished for whatever the host boaters’ specialties were or whatever the guest anglers wanted to go after.
At Lawson Creek Park, regardless of their quarry, it appeared that (as an old friend used to say) “a large time was had by one and all.” As boats began to appear at the dock for a 3 p.m. weigh-in, a crowd gathered to admire the anglers’ catch –
primarily largemouth bass and bream. After plenty of congratulations, some “oohs and aahs” over the large ones, and at least a few jokes about those that were a little smaller, the live fish were released and people enjoyed snacks and cold drinks while socializing. A cooler-full of cold watermelon slices near the scale got a lot of attention.
Following the weigh-in, the center of attention was a chicken/barbecue dinner with all the trimmings. Afterwards door prizes were distributed to all the Wounded Warriors/Disabled Vets and trophies awarded to those who brought in the largest
bass and heaviest stringer of panfish. Everyone there was a winner, however, whether they were guest anglers, host boaters or volunteers. One fisherman, a young man who was injured while serving in the Navy, said it was some of the most fun he’d ever had. He kept slapping his host boater on the back and telling all who would listen that he’d caught the biggest fish of his life.
There were others, a couple of Disabled Veterans who had served in Korea a long time ago; many who had spent time in the Middle East and came home with permanent scars – some visible, others not; and a couple who could only get into a
boat with a lot of help and to the weigh-in with wheel chairs. Regardless of their handicaps, they were happy to be where they were and thankful for the folks who made it all happen. We should all be thankful for their service - and for those who
stormed the beaches at Normandy seventy-five years ago.
Ed Wall can be reached at email@example.com or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com