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Neosho fishing event brings veterans together

Joplin Globe - 3/19/2017

March 19--NEOSHO, Mo. -- Veterans from around the Joplin area gathered in Neosho on Saturday morning to enjoy a solitary pursuit together.

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around a 1-acre pond, men and women cast hooks and bobs into a pond stocked with rainbow trout by the Neosho National Fish Hatchery.

Called Rainbows for Veterans, the event was put on by the hatchery to help veterans build relationships, not to mention enjoy themselves.

"A lot of these people have some heavy duty stuff on their minds," said Roderick May, director of the hatchery. "On this day, we hope they have fun."

For many veterans, the event is one of the best opportunities of the year for fishing and camaraderie.

Tim and Shannon Newland drove from Diamond to catch trout and meet new people.

The couple, who served a combined 56 years in the military -- many of them as battlefield nurses -- particularly enjoy the company of other veterans.

"With the military, everyone seems to have a sense of camaraderie," Shannon said. "I can look at someone and say what they've been through. If you haven't been deployed, you really don't know."

At the opening ceremonies, speakers remembered another veteran who thrived on events like this one.

Fred Hall, who died in February at age 94, was usually oldest veteran at the event. In his later years, he proudly said that he left the house for two reasons: to go to the doctor or for Rainbows for Veterans.

"He was scared to death he was going to be late, but he was always an hour early," said his son, Gene Hall, who considers his father "a patriot." He remembers picking up Fred for the event and finding him waiting at the door in his wheelchair.

Casting in close quarters, the anglers quickly began pulling rainbow trout from the "derby pond." At just less than 1 acre, it is the only pool where fishing is permitted -- and then only on special occasions.

The hatchery is the oldest federal operation for spawning fish, part of a national effort to conserve American fisheries. Since it was opened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1888, dozens more have sprung up around the country.

Several times a year, the hatchery takes a break from fostering rainbow trout, pallid sturgeon and Topeka shiners to offer up the trout at community events. These fish live in the nearly 1-acre pool 11 until they are caught, lasting anywhere from two weeks to two years. Depending on the event, they will be hauled in by a youngster, a senior citizen or a veteran.

On Saturday, each fisherman was allowed four trout. Duane Frazier, 84, was one of the first to pull a good-sized fish from the pool.

The Carthage man, a veteran of the Korean War, was accompanied by his daughter. The two are regulars at the opening day of trout season in Roaring River State Park -- Frazier estimates they have attended for 25 years running -- but it was their first time at this event.

"I don't care if I catch anything," he said. "I don't care as long as I get to wet the line and keep it from rusting. For a lot of people, the only time they get to fish is here."

Though many who cast lines on Saturday were experienced, this was a full-service event, with fishing rods, hook-tying and bait provided.

The volunteers who staffed the event were almost as numerous as the veterans. They came from near and far.

"I thought I wanted a day to myself," said Mickey Sandford, a counselor at Neosho High School, as he directed traffic in the parking lot. "But this is better than sitting in a chair watching ball games all day."

As an ROTC Color Guard lined up to kick off the event, a group of young public servants gathered to receive instructions from the hatchery staff. The volunteers, many of whom hail from New York and Los Angeles, were instructed to hand out fishing rods, tie hooks and help veterans unhook fish.

"I can do anything but take a fish off a hook," said Parker Linsley, 20, of Buffalo, New York.

His group is part of AmeriCorps, a federal program that places people ages 18 to 24 in public service positions. They are based in Colorado but are just finishing a stint in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, where they worked for the Eastern Shawnee tribe. When they heard about Rainbows for Veterans, they decided to stop by.

Their efforts earned the appreciation of Vurl Brock, a veteran of the Vietnam War who has been a regular at the fishing derby.

"It's fun," he said. "It's something they give the vets. If you die in a hospital, you go to hell. If you die fishing, heaven."

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(c)2017 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

Visit The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) at www.joplinglobe.com

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