Today their journey was relatively short, from the VA Home in SLC to Strawberry Reservoir in the mountains of Utah, but these aging World War two veterans, appropriately referred to as; Americas Finest generation had, during their lives, been on a long and horrific Journey that took them from their homes in the farthest reaches of our land to far off places across the globe.

They and their countrymen fought and served across the width of Europe and in North Africa against the armies of the axis and the third Reich and in the jungles and mountains of the Pacific islands against the Japanese. In bombers and fighter aircraft and aboard destroyers and hospital ships they served as well as being in some of the most infamous battles of the great war; Corregidor, Okinawa, the battle of the bulge and the list goes on marking far off locales with the blood of their brother and sisters in arms and often their own. They have seen death and carry the demons it leaves behind to torment them in memories and during sleepless nights. Memories fade with age, but never go away completely not even after nearly 70 years since the war ended.

In wheelchairs and with walkers they came aboard the boat, it took a long time to get them situated. No one thought anything about it. The Captain and his volunteer were honored to have them aboard, considering this occasion something very special.

Dark clouds approached across the mountain tops bringing rain and thunder showers across the lake as it had done all morning. The Captain welcomed them aboard explaining to them that he had built the boat for them, a way to thank them for their service to the country. They smiled silently. Words of thanks for their sacrifices hadn’t come often in the years since the war had ended.

The big fishing boat pulled away from the dock. The captain wouldn’t go far with the weather threatening. In a quarter of a century aboard boats he hadn’t had even the smallest of injuries and he didn’t expect it today. This was the most precious of passengers he had ever had aboard. He didn’t take his responsibility lightly. Even if he didn’t find fish for them he would insure their safety and comfort.

Rains came suddenly. The overhead canopy would protect them, but he captain turned the boat into the wind and throttled up to return to the quiet of the bay and the safety of the dock. As the winds increased, waves formed and water sprayed across the bow pontoons and deck. He turned to see if they were getting wet and was met with a boat load of smiles. Spray in the face has universal appeal to all that love the water and being on it. These aged warriors were no exception.

Safely moored at the dock, Captain and mate rigged the rods with fresh bait. The captain knew they could catch trout off the boat, perhaps not as many as on the open lake, but they were safe here and that is what mattered.

The captain moved among them, touching their shoulders and hands, adjusting the fishing rods for those who could hold them and placing others in rod holders for those who couldn’t. He spoke quietly to them, placing his face close to theirs when they couldn’t hear his words of encouragement and thanks. He studied their faces intently wondering what life had been for them after the war. He thought of his own father who had also served in the Pacific during the war and would never talk about his experiences. Were these men and women alone now? Did they have family who visited them at the home? Did their dreams torment them? His eyes welled with tears as he thought about their sacrifices and that of the hundreds of others who had been aboard his boat.

He turned to the volunteer mate who had been aboard with him many times during the summer and asked, “Which one is 500? Did you keep track as they come aboard?” In the beginning the captain had set a goal to take 500 individuals aboard the boat and he knew that today that number would be achieved.

“The one in the bomber jacket. The Airman”, the mate responded nodding to the back of the boat.

The captain was a veteran himself serving 40 years earlier during the Vietnam War years. He didn’t often ask those aboard about their experience, but he wanted to know about this Air Force veteran. Minutes passed as they spoke. The old man struggled with his memory. He was with the American Forces in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. After weeks of bloody battles that killed hundreds of allied troops, the Americans capitulated and hundreds more were taken prisoner. They talked about the Bataan death march where allied POW’s were forced to march without food or water for weeks across the island to be transported by boat to camps in Japan. Those too ill or injured who couldn’t keep up were shot or bayoneted to death. Hundreds were killed or died of disease.

During the trips to the camps in Japan hundreds of others perished when allied submarines torpedoed many of the Japanese vessels, not knowing there were prisoners of war aboard. He recounted being in the camp in Japan where he suffered additionally, experiencing disease and the revenges of years of forced labor until the camps were liberated after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Many in the camp he was interned in were killed or perished from malnourishment and disease.

As the old man finished, the captain could say nothing as he pondered what he had been told. Finally he touched the valiant airman on the shoulder and quietly said, “Thank you and may God bless and watch over you for what you have done”.


Too soon it was time for them to return to the vets home. Gently, carefully their caretakers from the VA took them in wheelchairs and walkers up the launch ramp to the awaiting van. Just before their departure the VA coordinator who arranged to bring them, told the captain they wanted to say goodbye. He stepped aboard the van and they broke out in applause intermixed with thank you’s.

He promised to visit them in Salt Lake and that they would go again soon on the vessel “Freedoms Dream” that he had built for them and their brothers and sisters in arms who have served our flag with such great valor and honor. Those that served during world war two and rapidly disappearing. 800 a day die. The captain, aging himself, thought about this and was filled with pride that he could spend a day with them and fulfill his mission to say; “Thank You for all they have done.”