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Fishing with warriors.

I grew up close to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The military has always been an integral part of the Jacksonville area. After I graduated high school in 1966, I joined the Marine Corps Reserve. I wasn't called to active duty in Vietnam, but a close friend was. He was a kid I grew up with; we went to church together. Today, he's mostly housebound, on a lot of medications, and still has trouble with fragments from a grenade.

These recent wars have been different from the Vietnam era. Whether people have favored the wars or not, they've been supporting the military.

Last year, Rick Ryals told me he needed some help with this Yamaha

Fishing for Warriors program. I offered to take care of it. I've been running charters now for about 30 years. When I worked for the Jacksonville fire rescue, I ran trips on my days off. Rick was one of my mentors in chartering.

Now, I'm helping Rick line up injured veterans with a hand-picked group of experienced offshore captains.

They leave on fishing trips out of Mayport. Some days we slow-troll for king mackerel. Last week, we had a great day catching sharks, big redfish and jacks on bait pods. Guys were catching fish till they couldn't reel any more fish in.

With help from our sponsors, such as Yamaha, Costa, Guy Harvey and Dandee Foods, we supply everything for them--lunch, tee shirts, fuel cards for the captains. The guys we carry on these trips all have some degree of post traumatic stress disorder, and they're getting treatment for that. All have been injured in some way. When they come fishing with us, the first thing we do is thank them for their service to our country. And when they step off the boat, we thank them again.

I love living here. Thirty years ago, we built a house on the marsh. It's seven miles to the boat ramp at Mayport. I feel like the Lord has blessed my wife and me immensely. I didn't know retirement could be this enjoyable.

At the same time, I can't stop thinking about these warriors, who are putting their lives on the line every minute they're overseas. Taking them fishing--it's the least we can do, to let them feel appreciation from us and from the nation.

Eddie Smith, 66

Fishing captain, 26-foot Turtle

Jacksonville Beach, FL

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Title Annotation:I'm a Florida Sportsman
Author:Smith, Eddie
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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