Vietnam veteran Harold Smith of Newburyport woke up to his 5:45 a.m. alarm on Tuesday excited for the fishing trip ahead. He had been looking forward to the excursion for days
The 73-year-old, who goes by “Bud,” had his bag packed and resting by the front door. In it were two apples, binoculars, a camera and gloves.
His ride pulled up at 7:35 a.m.
Just a few minutes later Smith arrived at the Bridge Marina in Salisbury. He hopped on board the Sundance II, a boat with the Clipper Fleet fishing charter,with about 22 of his fellow army veterans for the second annual 101st Airborne Association of New England fishing trip for veterans and wounded warriors of the North Shore.
The event was coordinated by Dick George and Dick Kelley, two veterans who served in the storied division and are active in the association.
Local businesses and private donors on the North Shore funded the trip.
“It’s kind of a passion,” George said. “We love doing it and we love seeing the smiling faces on these people. Some of these guys will be fishing for the first time.”
But the trip wasn’t all about the fishing. It was about the camaraderie that the veterans shared regardless of their age and experience in the army.
Smith, who served in Vietnam in 1961 and 1962, wore a 101st Airborne Division pin to show his appreciation and gratitude to the unit for coordinating the memorable trip for local veterans.
“It’s great,” Smith said. “The camaraderie with these 101st guys is really something…I wear their pin and some of the guys here say, ‘Why do you wear the pin if you weren’t in the 101st Airborne?’ And I say, ‘Because they’re so good to us.’”
This year, George and Kelley are coordinating three events for local veterans and wounded soldiers in addition to the fishing trip.
In August they will organize a barbecue and whale watch and wrap up the year by bringing Santa Claus to Newburyport in December.
In addition to the Christmas event, George said if there is a surplus of funds, which there usually is, he will send an anonymous check to families that are in need of financial assistance.
“These are the people that need that ‘shot in the arm,’” George said. “Those are the areas where we can help them the most. That’s what we do.”
On board the fishing charter were veterans from Amesbury, Newburyport, Beverly, New Hampshire, Boston and Connecticut. Some of them seek shelter at nearby veteran homes.
Grady Jones, 45, is the veterans logistics supervisor at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston and served in the Army from 1989 to 1990 at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Jones said he was appreciative off the opportunity to go on the trip.
“We get to hang out and get the camaraderie going,” Jones said. “No matter what our story is, we get to know each other on a personal level.”
After the veterans dropped their lines at two different locations, they stopped for a short ceremony honoring those that have been wounded or killed in combat.
A member of the Creagan More Pipes and Drums band out of Gloucester played the bagpipes while a small wreath adorned with red, white and blue flowers, along with an American flag, was pushed out into the ocean.
Tony Toland, 74, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, read a brief passage commemorating those that have served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Airforce.
Toland said the day had extraordinary meaning for the local veterans.
“It’s just a tremendous day,” Toland said. “Not only being out here, but also what it represents. Bringing vets together and enabling them to do something like this. That’s what it’s all about, being with the guys.”
At the end of the day, the veterans took home a total of seven cod and haddock, and dubbed the day a success.
To add to the day's events, the veteran who caught the biggest fish was awarded a prize of $100.
Rocky Desilets, 65, from Hudson, New Hampshire caught a haddock that weighed over 7 lbs. Instead of walking away with the $100, he donated the money to disabled veterans.
"It feels good," Desilets said. "It feels really good."
To view a photo gallery of the fish trip go here..