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One Photo: One Story: This is not a fish story.

Our Scout Master earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star as a tank

commander at the Battle of The Bulge during WWII. So, when I broke his fishing

pole, I was terrified.

I hadn’t thought about this until my recent vacation on the Upper Delaware River

near Callicoon, NY. As we cruised the river in a raft, I saw a flat bottomed

rowboat along the riverbank. I remembered a similar one from my days as a

young scout along these banks.

Scoutmaster Robert Fersch was an accomplished gin swilling outdoorsman who hunted and fished all over the world. He had nice fishing poles.

I sensed he was kin to the woods and streams. By a late-night campfire, he told a story of how an ammo soldier dropped a live M3 round inside his Sherman tank. As the shell hit the steel floor with a clang. He cringed waiting for the explosion. After a tense moment they continued with their mission.

Fishing was his connection to peace and tranquility. I wish I knew how he earned

his battlefield commendations. He never shared those stories with us. You could

tell in his eyes, he saw and knew things we didn’t understand. Fishing helped him

escape from those memories.

He set goals for us on our summer camping trips. A mile swim, a two-day canoe trip, or five merit badges. We learned to pitch tents, administer first aid, and test our survival techniques. We did chores like get water from the stream, chop wood, and clean up the campsite. He made the work seem like fun.

On the day we had to earn our fishing merit badges, I did not have my own fishing pole. Mr. Fersch told me I could use his anytime I wanted if I worked on earning my badges and to always return his equipment.

It was very generous of him. I held the pole that snagged a million fish. I would get my merit badge and catch a monster bass with this pole.

We had small fleet of row boats. I was assigned a fishing partner and we pushed off and cruised the Delaware in search of the perfect fishing spot. The water was calm and serene.

We dropped our homemade cement filled coffee can anchor off the side and stopped near a tree lined bank with a deep hole to our starboard.

I was trying Mr. Fersch’s lures and hooks intending to catch a whopper. It felt as if we were fishing for hours. I could understand how this war hero used his time on the water to distance himself from the memories of battle.

As darkness neared, I put his pole down and pulled the anchor. I stumbled as the rowboat shifted in the current. I dropped the anchor on the tip of Mr. Fersch’s trusty pole and it snapped in half.

The other scout and I rowed back to camp in silence. I was terrified. I hid the pole in the woods.

I saw one of our scout leaders, Johnnie Portuese and told him what had happened. He turned pale and shook his head. The other leader they called “Peanuts”, whispered “You’re dead”.

Johnnie told everyone to calm down and he’d think of something.

For the next few hours, I made myself scarce thinking of what Mr. Fersch would do or say about my carelessness. Johnnie appeared from the woods and said, “Mr. Fersch would like to see you in his tent.

When I stepped into his tent, he looked at me and said “SIT”. I took a seat on the small army cot in the corner. He held the broken rod in his hands.

“I understand things happen”, he began. “What you should have done was tell me yourself”. All I could do was stare at the dirt floor and wonder how he had found it.

“Look at me Scout”. He barked. “We have three days left here. You’re on KP

(Kitchen police). Not for breaking my pole, but for sending someone else to tell me. Any questions?”

I looked at him. “No Sir”. I sheepishly muttered.

He asked, “Did you catch any fish today”? I answered, “No Sir”.

He shook his head and said, “Get Out”.

I cleaned pots and pans for three days.


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