By Larry Whiteley
It was the morning of July 4th. A truck with three men pulls into the marina. Their families were still sleeping at the lodge where they were all staying. They get out of the truck and tease each other about who will catch the most fish while unloading their fishing gear. A brilliant orange sunrise lit up the eastern sky as they headed down the ramp to the dock.
The pontoon boat pulled away from the dock. An American flag hung from the bow blowing gently in the breeze. A family of three generations of soldiers celebrated Independence Day by going out crappie fishing. The father was a veteran of the Vietnam War, the son had been in the Gulf War, and the grandson had recently returned from Afghanistan.
They laughed, they smiled, they caught crappie. Between reeling in fish, they talked about vacations they had been on together. They spoke of their beloved family deer camp. They talked about other fishing trips they had been on. They talked about kids, grandkids, and military buddies. Many stories were shared, but none about war and the things they had all seen and been through. They kept all that to themselves.
They talked about the dad, the grandfather, and the great grandfather who had been one of the “Greatest Generation.” The father smiled and spoke about how much he would have loved being there. Fishing and family were important to him. They all kind of felt he was with them that morning and how proud he would have been of each of them for serving their country.
Being a soldier ran deep in this family. Other generations of family members fought in the Korean War, World War I, and even the Civil War. Serving their country was in their blood. It was not something that was expected of you. It was something you wanted to do. It was something you did.
They all stopped fishing to watch two eagles sitting in a nest at the top of a tree. Seeing this iconic symbol of America meant as much to them as the flag waving on the front of the boat. One of the eagles flew from the nest and started circling over the water. It was out fishing too. As it circled in the bright blue sky, it made the distinctive eagle sound which is said to be unlike any other sound in nature. They all knew that an eagle call represents a call to action. Native Americans believe the sound of an eagle gives you courage and life force to overcome your obstacles and fight against your challenge. They had all done that.
The eagle and its mate also reminded them that they had family back at the lodge waiting for them to come to pick them up so they could have a picnic out on the water. They put away their fishing gear and raised the anchor. As the boat idled into the marina, they could see their wives, kids, and grandkids. It reminded all of them of the time when their families were waiting for them when they came home from war. It also reminded them of how blessed they were to make it back home to their families when so many of their buddies did not.
They loaded up food and family and went back out on the water. The flag still waved on the front of the boat. As they motored across the lake, boats pulling water skiers and kids on tubes were everywhere. So were the jet skis. Other families were out having fun on this Independence Day. Most had no idea why we as Americans celebrate this day. No one realized that three generations of soldiers had just passed them on the water. Men like them fought to protect our country’s independence. Men and women like them continue to serve and fight for our country and the freedom of other countries worldwide.
As the pontoon boat continued across the crowded lake, the eagle flew over and circled them again. The kids loved seeing and hearing the eagle. They kept following the eagle until it led them into a quiet, shaded cove away from the crowds, and then it landed in a tree. It was almost like the eagle knew these men were three generations of soldiers and had led them to this place. The other eagle flew in and joined its mate and the families.
They unloaded water toys for the younger kids, a Mickey Mouse fishing rod for the 6-year-old, lawn chairs, and a cooler full of food and drinks. The father started a campfire and got the skillet ready. The other men filleted crappie and threw what was left of each fish out on the water for the eagles, to say thank you. Everyone loved watching the eagles circle the fish while making their sound and then dive down to the water for their special treat. Crappie sizzled in the cast iron skillet as the women got the rest of the food together.
When everything was ready to eat, they circled together as a family, held each other’s hands, and bowed their heads as the father/grandfather led them in prayer. He said, “God, thank you for this special time on this special day. Thank you for the nature you created for all of us to enjoy and care for. Thank you to men like my dad, my son, and my grandson who fought for this nation that was founded upon “In God We Trust.” It saddens me to see our country the way it is becoming. I pray that this nation will turn from its wicked ways and turn back to you. Thank you for the many blessings you have given this family. Amen!”
As they were eating, the 6-year-old told everyone that the eagles were praying too. “What do you mean,” said his dad. “I peeked at the eagles while papaw was praying,” the boy said. They both had their heads bowed while papaw prayed and then raised their heads when he was done and made that sound again.” Everyone looked up at the eagles and smiled. Some looked back at them again and wondered.
The afternoon was filled with talking about memories and making memories. Sitting in the shade, playing in the water, skipping rocks, and much more. The 6-year-old and his grandpa walked up the bank and found a good place for a 6-year-old to fish. Grandpa dug up a worm and put it on the little boy’s hook, then helped him cast it over by a log lying in the water. The bobber went under, and grandpa helped him reel in a little fish. It didn’t matter to the boy what size it was. He had to take it back and show everyone. Another fisherman joined the family that day.
A beautiful sunset lit up the western sky. A great day was coming to an end. They had all caught crappie and had a fun-filled afternoon as a family. They were getting ready to pull up the anchor when the fireworks started across the lake. The flag still waved on the front of the boat with the fireworks as a backdrop. The eagles saw them too. The soldiers all stood at once and saluted the flag. The rest of the family joined them, put their hand over their heart, and all started singing “God Bless America.” The 6-year-old looked up to see his dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa saluting the flag, so he did too. His great-grandpa looked down and saw him. He knew that someday his great-grandson would also hear the call of an eagle.
There would be another generation of soldiers.