TOWER—Despite heavy smoke from wildfires across the region permeating the air on Lake Vermilion this past Thursday, nothing could dissuade local fishing guides and boat operators from bringing …
TOWER—Despite heavy smoke from wildfires across the region permeating the air on Lake Vermilion this past Thursday, nothing could dissuade local fishing guides and boat operators from bringing nearly 70 veterans out onto the lake for the 6th annual Take A Vet Fishing event.
“These guys are used to adverse conditions,” said Lake Vermilion Guides League President Lonnie Johnson a few hours into the event. “They are having a great time fishing, telling stories, and just enjoying one another’s company.”
It was the first time in two years for the event, which was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
The day’s festivities started with a guides’ breakfast, followed by a continental breakfast at the lakeside tent and several hours of fishing, before moving to The Woodlands Ballroom for a shoreline walleye lunch, music, and a cash bar.
Take A Vet Chairman Phil Bakken was thrust into the role of pastor as a bout with COVID-19 kept the real pastor from giving the invocation.
Bakken spoke just prior to the Cook Honor Guard VFW Post 1757 presentation of the colors. Mary Jo Ralston sang the National Anthem.
Through it all, veterans took advantage of the opportunity to reminisce about years gone by and to reconnect with friendships formed many years, even decades ago, after their service to their country officially ended.
“It is great getting together to give each other sh__,” said 91-year-old U.S. Army Veteran Bob Roskoski. “I can say sh__,’ right?”
The Korean War Vet is a spry 91-year-old, who is looking forward to his 92nd birthday in October. While the adverse weather conditions were an inconvenience, Roskoski was in a jovial mood as he moved from table to table to talk with his buddies, not only the ones who served in the same war as he, but ones that he met at previous Take A Vet Fishing events.
“If I don’t see them here, I get to see other vets every morning when I have coffee with the boys at the club,” said the Purple Heart recipient of his daily trip to downtown Virginia to the VFW. “But this is a special day for us and we thank everyone involved in putting this on.”
However, for Bakken, all of the thanks should be directed at the veterans who show up year after year to this event. He finds it heartbreaking to see the number of World War II vets dwindle, but he also appreciates the fact that there is still a small contingency of the Greatest Generation attending the event.
“These World War II vets are a special people,” said Bakken. “When they came home from the war, very few of them shared their experiences with their family, but when they come here and get together with other vets, they swap stories. It’s because other veterans can relate to what they’ve gone through.”
Bakken said the World War II veterans more than live up to their moniker of the Greatest Generation.
“Whenever I tell people that we have World War II vets participate in this event, they are like, ‘Wow!,’” exclaimed Bakken. “They are truly amazed that we still get them to show up for this event and celebrate them for the sacrifices they’ve made.”
One such World War II Veteran on hand for Thursday’s event was Eveleth’s Ed Mayasich, who is 93-years-old, but still moves around quite well and has a zest for life.
“I went to World War II on my 17th birthday,” recalled Mayasich. “I still remember my mom asking me why I didn’t go to work that day… I told her I didn’t feel very good, but when my Navy recruiter came to my home later that night, she knew what I did and she started crying. That night was the first time I ever saw my dad with tears in his eyes, too.”
As it turned out Mayasich’s decision was one he never regretted, even though it meant he lost a lot of innocence when he signed up that fateful day.
“But it was something I wanted to do,” said Mayasich, who had quit school leading up to his ultimate decision to help out his country.
Bois Forte Tribal Chair Cathy Chavers and Secretary/Treasurer Dave Morrison were two others who took the time to thank the veterans and express much gratitude and respect to the veterans gathered in The Woodlands Ballroom after their morning fishing excursion ended.
“I am a daughter of two veterans as my mom and dad served in the Navy in World War II,” said Chavers, who has been the tribal chair since 2016 and is the first female to serve as President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. “I am proud of their service and very honored and grateful for everyone’s service who is here today. We all sacrifice something… but your families also deserve a round of applause for the sacrifices they made. I am proud and honored to be with you today.”
Once the shore lunch was served, the veterans enjoyed more time together. There were plenty of laughs, some tears, and emotions as they bid farewell until they meet again.
For Johnson, that is what the event is all about.
“I was in the dentist’s office once waiting to be seen and an old fellow was looking at me and recognized me from a past Take A Vet Fishing event,” said Johnson. “He wheeled himself over to me and thanked me and told me how awesome it is that we do this. That really touched me and it’s stories like that, that keep us coming back to do this for our veterans.”