Veterans honored through 'Tight Lines for Troops' fishing tournament
MANISTEE COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) — Each year, hundreds of veterans have the opportunity to get the fishing experience of a lifetime.
Around 5:00 AM Saturday, nearly 300 veterans from across the state of Michigan hit the waters of Lake Michigan from the Manistee harbor for some fishing, fun, and camaraderie.
After a blessing, and the playing of taps, boats hit the water for some fishing, bonding time with other vets, and some friendly competition.
Dozens of charter boat captains and crews volunteered to accommodate veterans on their boats. Most of them hoping to catch the biggest “King” or Chinook salmon.
“It’s exhilarating to be out here with [the veterans and crews] and to be fishing with them,” said Lawrence Howard, a Vietnam veteran. “And [I want to thank] the people that come out and volunteer their boats and their time and appreciating us for who we are.”
William (Doc) Berndt, a 92-year-old World War II Veteran, out-shined his crew by catching the biggest salmon on his boat.
"For a 92-year-old man, this was an amazing experience," Berndt said. "[The welcoming back] was so emotional."
After a long morning on the lake, hundreds of people from the community waved flags and honored the veterans, thanking them for their service and dedication as the veterans and charter boats arrived back into the harbor.
Some veterans on board say this was the type of welcome home they’ve always hoped for.
“We didn’t get the appreciation when we got back,” Howard said. “We got spit at, rocks thrown at, and it’s a bit of a change for us, it really is, because now people are coming out and acknowledging and appreciating.”
“The expressions on [the veteran’s] faces and the appreciation they show, they talk about it forever and they can’t wait to come back again,” said one of the Tight Lines for Troops organizers, Craig Kent. “It means a lot more to them than we possibly could imagine.”
The trip is free for all veterans. Money raised through raffles, apparel and donations goes to non-profits that benefit veterans.
Every veteran was given a little piece of the prize. After the cleaning was done, each took home a small cooler with some fresh fish fillets.