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Any veteran who has served the United States military faces unique challenges when they return to civilian life. World War II vets suffered mental and physical scars, but their reentry back home was generally eased by the fact that almost everybody served. With sacrifices born more evenly across the military-civilian divide, communities were also more vested in their soldiers and showed their appreciation through everything from parades to endless job opportunity, says Guenthardt, something not experienced by the veterans of Korea and Vietnam and the soldiers coming home today.
The sun is shining and Cheryl, taking a break after landing another fish, remarks how she found Tight Lines for Troops through an announcement on a website for unemployed veterans. She never expected salmon fishing would be so much fun.
“Today, only about two million people, less than one percent of the population, wear the uniform,” says Guenthardt, adding how this can result in a feeling of isolation once vets return home. “Veterans go through things that they won’t talk about to anyone except other vets. So one of the big things this event gives them is a chance to be with other vets, make some new friends, and experience a whole community that really cares.”
The tournament begins with a traditional version of taps and the boats take off in a shotgun start. The Warrior Society from the Littler River Band of Ottawa Indians prepares a barbecue dinner. There’s a classic car and hot rod show, plus a motorcycle raffle sponsored by Little River Casino Resort. Tight Lines for Troops organizers also host activities and guided walks along the Manistee River channel for veterans’ families and caregivers, timed so spectators can watch the boats reenter the harbor for the weigh-in.
The real highlight of the event, in Guenhardt’s mind, is the pageantry that surrounds that weigh-in. Tight Lines sets up over 2,000 flags and unfurls banners for a dose of full-on Americana.
Heading back into the harbor for the weigh-in, boats putter through the channel past flag-waving children and cheering crowds. American flags on every dock, every pole, gently snap in the breeze. Cameras flash. Ted pulls a silver fish from the live well, pumps it overhead, and says to no one in particular, “Most of these guys, when they got back from Vietnam, never saw anything like this.”