On War and Fishing (by Billy Coffey)

We stood far enough away from one another to not to tangle our lines but still be within speaking distance. Because when two men go fishing, conversation is just as essential as a pole and some water.

The last time Kirk and I had gone fishing, he had cussed the water and the fish and the pole he was using, drank a six-pack of beer, and spoke of his latest conquest—the cashier down at the Dairy Queen. Typical, I suppose, of a nineteen-year-old male. I listened patiently, waiting for a sufficient break in his bragging to suggest he grow up and get on in his life. In the three hours we fished, I barely said a word.

Four years and a few months later, we stood on that same riverbank with those two same fishing poles, and Kirk still talked. But as he spoke and I listened, I knew things were different now. Kirk had changed.

Time does that to a person. So does war.

When he told me three years ago he was joining the army, I told him it was the best thing he could do. He needed the discipline, I said. Besides, the only jobs around here were either on farms or in factories, and Kirk was cut out for neither.

We both knew what joining the army meant. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging, and every headline of every newspaper was filled with the latest casualties. But neither of us mentioned the fact that Kirk would be heading off to war. It was simply a given.

A few weeks after boot camp, Kirk got his orders. He was going to Iraq.

His mother tied a yellow ribbon on the big oak tree in their front yard, and Kirk was put on the prayer lists of just about every church within ten miles. Every once in a while I would hear bits and pieces about where he was and how he was doing, and we would exchange emails when we could, but for the most part he was there and I was here and time moved on.

Then, out of the blue, he called me on Saturday. “I’m back,” he said. “How ‘bout some fishin’?”

I never asked him what it was like. Never asked him what he felt or what he did or what he saw. I just said that I was glad he was back safe and sound. But as the afternoon wore on and the fish refused to bite, he began to share some of the things that weighed on his heart.

The things you see in the movies about war? About brave men withstanding a hail of gunfire and coming out without a scratch? That doesn’t happen. In real life those bullets are real and they don’t care whose flesh they puncture, whether it’s a soldier or a terrorist or a five-year-old girl.

And the love of country? That’s there. Always and without a doubt. But Kirk didn’t see himself as someone laying down his life for his country, he saw himself as someone willing to die for his friends. For his brothers. Because God gives you one family, and war gives you another.

Don’t read the papers, he said. Because the papers only print what they want to print, and not the truth. The truth? The truth is that you would be amazed at what’s happening in Iraq. There are schools and hospitals. There are smiles. There is freedom. If there was one thing that Kirk hated, it was the fact that the war had become less about the men and women fighting it and more about the politicians using it for their own gains.

But most of all, Kirk learned this:

We cheapen life. We no longer hold it as special. As sacred. And because we don’t, war will always be a part of this world. People can work for peace as much as they want, and they should, but in the end we are all dark inside. There will forever be the need for men and women to stand guard for the rest of us. They will sacrifice their peace so we may be able to enjoy ours.

Four years and a few months ago, I stood by that river and fished with a boy. Saturday, I stood there and fished with a man.

There are plenty of people who think of this day as the beginning of summer. A day off. A chance to barbeque and relax. But from now on, I will be thinking of Kirk. Not because of how far he’s come.

Because of what he had to endure to get there.

To read more of Billy’s writing, visit him at What I Learned Today.

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28 Responses to “On War and Fishing (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Peter P May 25, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    >Great post Billy.

    Thank you Kirk – and everyone else who has served or is currently serving to keep us safe.

  2. Anne L.B. May 25, 2009 at 4:39 am #

    >Thank You, Lord, for all those who fight for family and freedom at the cost of blood.

  3. Denise May 25, 2009 at 4:59 am #

    >Amen, beautiful post Billy. God dearly bless Kirk, and all the other men and women who give their all to protect us.

  4. God's Not Finished With Us Yet... May 25, 2009 at 5:08 am #

    >I love this post; it identifies the heartbeat of the men and women that serve/served.

    I loved the line you wrote:
    “Four years and a few months ago, I stood by that river and fished with a boy. Saturday, I stood there and fished with a man.”

    How very true that time does change a person but especially the time of the few and brave who witness and fight wars, upfront and on the fighting field. It is because of them that we have the luxurious freedoms that we do now in the USA. It is because of them that America is a strong contry.

    ~Sarah Cecilia

  5. Candace Jean July 16 May 25, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    >I have secretly always wished that my boys would be able to experience the maturity and growth that serving in war brings. Selfishly, I was glad they never had to. It would have been good for both of them. Perhaps. My heart aches at the boys/men who have not recovered from either the physical or emotional trauma, yet I feel a deep gratitude for all who have served and kept us safe.

    One of my most precious memories related to service was picking up the 21 shell casings at the cemetary after my dad’s 21 gun salute. I still carry one with me in my purse to remind me of the sacrifices of so many. Spent shells – there’s a blog post for you, Billy, that only you could write.

    This was poignant. Thank you.

  6. Blessed Mom of 8 May 25, 2009 at 7:15 am #

    >Billy – beautiful and true.

    Praying for Kirk as he faces a new journey being home and learning how to put everything he saw into a safe place. God comfort His soul and spirit. Lord bless this man.

    Thank you for sharing his story and reminding us of the glory done in Iraq too!

    Happy Memorial Day!

  7. Joanne Sher May 25, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    >Excellent post, Billy. Praying for Kirk, and for everyone else this Memorial Day – that they may remember why we have the day off.

  8. Beth in NC May 25, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    >I have a nephew who did 2 tours in Iraq. I can say it definitely changes people. Thank you for writing this.

    God bless our men and women (and their families).

    Happy Memorial Day — celebrate the freedom that we still have.

  9. Jean May 25, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    >Thank you for sharing Billy’s post. Very moving. Especially to those of us who have waited at home, wringing our hands, clawing at hope, because our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, our moms, dads, sweethearts and friends are standing as a great wall “over there” that we can live free over here.

    “Thank you” doesn’t begin to be enough.

    Jean Hall

  10. Carol @SheLives May 25, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    >Very touching. Thanks for sharing these thought with us, Billy. (& katdish)

  11. Steph @Red Clay Diaries May 25, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    >This is great Billy. What a great illustration of how certain experiences bring maturity.

    Your post even makes this BLOG seem mature.

  12. The Homefront May 25, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    >What an excellent guest post. You’ve been blessed, having this young man’s friendship and confidence to confide in you.

    My husband is in Iraq now, and while he’s more mature and doesn’t seem to have undergone the same changes as Kirk, I’m sure that once he’s home we will be uncovering many similar things.

    Thanks for reminding us all not only what Memorial Day means, but also what war really means for the service members who fight it.

  13. Travis May 25, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    >Billy, I want to thank you for taking time to tell this story. There are so many myths about war and soldiers, but one thing is absolutely certain–the soldier is there because he or she wants to be, because they believe in freedom.

  14. Helen May 25, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    >God bless Kirk. And his friends and brothers…

  15. Amy May 25, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this. And my thanks to Kirk and every other soldier and person who has, is and will serve for our country.

    Have a great Memorial Day!

    ~Amy 🙂

  16. Chatty Kelly May 25, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    >Thank you to Kirk and to everyone has served. God bless you all.

  17. sherri May 25, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    >The difference between a peaceMAKER and a peace keeper.

    This was beautiful Billy.

  18. JML May 25, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    >Wonderful story. It’s unfortunate that we only look at the people more than the politics every so often, instead of truly remembering the faces, families and friends and whole life that each person represents.

  19. christy rose May 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm #

    >I am so thankful for men and women like Kirk who are willing to go and give their time and sometimes even their lives to make our country safer.

    I have never known any person personally who has been at war and came home to talk to me about it. What a privilege you have been given to know firsthand a “man” willing to sacrifice his life for yours.

    Thanks for sharing this on Memorial Day.

  20. Sarah Salter May 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    >Good Memorial Day post, Billy.

    My Granddaddy was in “The Glorious Corps” in WWII and was wounded in Okinawa. It used to embarrass me so much when we’d go to Jacksonville (home of Camp Lejeune) to the mall and he’d walk up to every guy with a short haircut and say, “Son, are you one of Uncle Sam’s Finest?” But now that Granddaddy’s gone home with Jesus, I think back on it with a smile. I’m so proud and thankful for his sacrifice and for all of their sacrifices. We are so blessed to be so well-protected– first by God and then by Uncle Sam’s Finest. Oorah!

  21. RCUBEs May 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm #

    >My husband was involved in “Operation Desert Storm” and he was in the “Missouri” when they almost got hit by the enemy’s missile. Thankfully and by God’s grace, there was a nearby British frigate who intercepted that missile before it hit them. Like what you wrote, they become one family, aside from having the same goal of fighting for freedom.
    We are also at war with ourselves as we make our decisions. May God help us to always do the right thing because of what He had done for us to have spiritual freedom. Your post is amazing and may God bless Kirk and the others who risk their lives.

  22. katdish May 25, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    >Thanks to everyone, especially those of you who shared your own experiences. This post really helped me to focus on those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms I enjoy.

    Oh wait, I should say thanks to everyone except for Steph…

  23. Laura May 25, 2009 at 10:35 pm #

    >Oh, how the mother in me ached as I read these words. Is it wrong to just long that they can stay innocent and naive as long as possible? (okay, maybe not innocent–i’m thinking of the dairy queen clerk). it is true: war is hell. but it is also a reality. I thank God for these young people who walk into danger almost every day. And yes, on this day I remember the lives given, offered up for me.

    Thanks, Billy.

  24. Tracy May 25, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    >Just when I thought I was done crying for the day! Sheesh… Wonderful, beautiful post Billy! Thank you for sharing Kirk’s story with us. Thank you for the reminder that freedom isn’t free, but it is worth fighting for. Memorial Day is my favorite holiday because I am just so grateful. Blessings!

  25. Jennifer May 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    >Thanking God with you …

  26. Billy Coffey May 25, 2009 at 11:43 pm #

    >I would like to thank everyone too, including katdish, who was kind enough to let me post this here.

    This country may be full of people who spent their day without a moment’s pause to consider those who secure our peace, but I can see here a group of people determined to honor their sacrifice.

  27. sharilyn May 26, 2009 at 12:03 am #

    >thank you, billy, for making it even more personal today…

  28. Tina May 26, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    >wonderful post Billy!

    God Bless America and the men and women who stand in for us all.

    In Him,

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