Tight Lines for Troops Charity Fishing Tournament continues to move many to tears

Previous Tight Lines for Troops events included more than 60 charter fishing boats and more than 300 veterans from around Michigan. When the boats returned from a day of fishing, hundreds lined the Manistee River to welcome them back.

Previous Tight Lines for Troops events included more than 60 charter fishing boats and more than 300 veterans from around Michigan. When the boats returned from a day of fishing, hundreds lined the Manistee River to welcome them back.

Like personal initials carved deep into an old oak tree, an army of veterans have carved their initials into the legacy of Tight Lines for Troops fishing tournament.

The Manistee-based charity event, in just its sixth year of casting lines, has grown to become one of the most anticipated – and appreciated – fishing tournaments in Michigan, and perhaps in all the Midwest.

Supported by nearly 80 sponsors and an estimated 100 year-round volunteers, driven by more than 60 charter fishing boat captains and their crews, the tournament has soared in spirit thanks to its nearly 300 veterans-turned-fishermen, and jubilant mass of flag-waving residents.

To say the tournament’s initial success of 2010 has swelled by tsunamic proportions, is an understatement. Judy Ball, administrator of the Tight Lines’ host committee, shared a few initialed comments left behind by Tight Line’s participants:

“The fishing was great, the food and camaraderie were outstanding. The feeling of pride and humility instilled by the patriots lining the pier and waving the flag we all fought so hard for so many years ago, was beyond description. No words of thanks can adequately express my gratitude.”

— H.R.

“This is my first time at this event. I would like to thank everyone who is involved in putting this together. I’m so excited, I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight. It’s been great being with all of my comrades.”

— R.C., Vietnam vet

“How does one express the feeling of gratitude? The words ‘thank you’ just does not do it. Please know all your efforts to help make Tight Lines for Troops means the world to me. God bless you.”

– J.T.

“Thank you so much for your contribution to Tight Lines for Troops. It’s very appreciated and does not go unnoticed. It truly has an impact on our lives.”

— P.S.

“My sincere and humble thanks. I only wish the friends I lost could be here with me. I’ve met new friends at this event and feel the honor the sponsors, volunteers, boat crews, community, and everyone else involved bestows on us. This is a lasting memory that you’ve given me. Thank you. Love to all.”

— T.G.

Ball, who is an employee of the Little River Casino and Resort – a key supporter and contributor of the tournament – said the host committee has received hundreds of such personalized and initialed compliments since its inaugural event six years ago.

“We get comment cards back every year, as well as thank you notes,” said Ball. “The event has been well received – as we expected it would – in the veteran world.

“What began as a fishing event to give some thanks back to the vets, now provides critical support to veterans in special need.

“(Tight Lines offers the) opportunity to interact with folks who understand where they’ve been, and also a chance to build new and lasting friendships,” said Ball. “For some of these veterans, Tight Lines has been a life-changing event.”

BEST ONE 6FLAG-WAVING WELCOME ‘MAKES IT ALL WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT’

In what has become an emotional tribute and tradition, area residents – all holding and waving American flags – line the boardwalk and shoreline along the Manistee River to greet the veterans as they return from their six-hour fishing expedition.

Tight Line organizers estimate 1,200 area residents unfurled Old Glory with such pride last year.

“When I see all the people, and the flags, on our return trip, and I watch the vets on our boat, it makes me proud to be from this area,” said Bob Guenthardt, founder of the event. “When I see the tears in the eyes of the veterans, it makes it all worth the time and effort we put into it to make it happen.”

Veteran John Stocki, a longtime member of Rolling Thunder, said that organization was prepared to hand out about 1,000, 3-foot by 5-foot flags today to local residents, as well as dozens of stick flags for children.

“We will have our 24-foot flag posted, and the City of Manistee Fire Department will post their large flag on their aerial ladder truck at the Coast Guard station,” said Stocki. “What a wonderful way to honor and welcome our veterans back.

“I have heard many stories from our veterans on how they were amazed to receive this memorable welcome home, for some, their first!

“What an amazing event bringing all our veterans together to share their stories and have a great day of fishing,” said Stocki. “It’s amazing how so many volunteers and our community comes together to help with this memorable event.”

Ball said watching the flag-waving welcome shown by the community to the veterans “… is just too unbelievable to describe … it’s become a very emotional thing to see.”

“I’ve seen many of the veterans cry,” said Ball. “They stand and salute. Many of them say it’s something they’ve never seen before – it’s the ‘welcome home’ they never got.

“We’re so happy to find how well our community has embraced the event and supported us in every way. Our community is proud of our veterans and grateful in so many ways – they have welcomed the opportunity to show their support.”

Harry “Les” Croyle, state commander of the Michigan VFW, was expected to take part in today’s tournament, as was former Michigan resident and past state commander of Texas, Mike Barber, who also recently served on the VFW’s National Council of Administration.

“We have a family this year where the grandfather was a WWII vet, the son a Vietnam vet, and two grandsons,” said Ball.

“And we also have a Goldstar grandfather, and Goldstar mother (participating). We owe them the greatest of gratitude.”

Goldstar distinction signifies families that have lost a son or daughter in service to their country.

Ball said veterans from some 180 communities signed up to take part in this year’s Tight Lines for Troops event.

Those veterans who served during World War II, and the Korean War, as well as former Prisoners of War, Purple Heart recipients, and disabled veterans, are given priority boarding to the charter boats, and are invited back every year to fish.

After that, applications for participation are handled on a first come, first served basis, with preference given to those who have never set sail with the fleet of charter boats in previous Tight Lines events.

Flags greet the arrival of veterans in last year’s Tight Lines for Troops event. (News Advocate file photos)

Flags greet the arrival of veterans in last year’s Tight Lines for Troops event. (News Advocate file photos)

‘TIGHT LINES IS ABOUT CELEBRATING OUR COMMON SERVICE’

For years, Ted and Pam Arens have supported veterans’ issues and events.

The Onekama couple helped start an endowment fund in Manistee County to assist veterans meet their needs. They’ve played a crucial role in the on-going revitalization of Veterans Memorial Park in Manistee. They actively supported and contributed to Tight Lines for Troops, and more.

“For me, Tight Lines is all about sharing, recognition, and comradery,” said Arens, a Vietnam veteran who served with the U.S. Marines.

“It’s a time that we share for serving the nation, the unspoken memories of the friends we left behind, the heartache and joy we experienced overseas; the healing of the broken minds and bodies which still need to be comforted and cared for; the admiration for those who have served so many tours of duty in our recent wars; and the sacrifices made by them and their families.

“And for me, personally, it always, always, relates back to the sacrifices made by those brave, young Allied soldiers who liberated my birth town of Groesbeek, in the Netherlands,” said Arens. “There are 2,590 identified graves – the final resting place of brave Canadian soldiers – and another 1,000 graves which are not identified. The American soldiers are buried to the south at Margraten.

“Tight Lines is about celebrating our common service, our common sacrifice, and the love and respect we have for the nation, and the Constitution.”

Jeff Seng, owner of Seng’s Marina located on the west shores of Manistee Lake, said he’s happy, and proud, to host the annual event.

“It’s a good thing,” Seng said of the Tight Lines for Troops event. “I was never in the service, and this is my way of giving back, of saying ‘thank you.’”

Seng’s Marina is fitted with 98 boat slips, and 72 will be used today to port a fleet of more than 60 charter fishing boats from all across West Michigan, as well as boats for the media, and others.

“I get a lot ‘thank you’s’ from the vets,” said Seng. “But I always tell them, ‘no sir, it’s I who should be thanking you.’

“We should support our vets, and our troops, every day of the year, whether here, or whether we pass them in an airport. We should thank them. We wouldn’t have all we have if it weren’t for them.”

Guenthardt said he came up with the idea for the Manistee fishing tournament after watching a television reality show of a paralyzed veteran taking part of a hunting outing.

“I thought, ‘we can do that here, we can take these veterans fishing,’” said Guenthardt.

“(But I have to tell you,) I never thought it would get to where it is now. With all the help we have putting on the event, and all the volunteers that show up, it will continue to grow. I have to say without the boats that participate, (without) the Casino, and Seng’s Marina, and all the sponsors that contribute, we could not get to where we are today.”

A former Ogema of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Guenthardt is the captain of the charter boat, the “Renegade.”

He worked in construction as an ironworker for 20 years, and also was involved in his family’s sawmill business.

Guenthardt said he is confident Tight Lines for Troops will continue on for many years.

“I would like to think it will go on for long after I’m no longer involved and with the group that helps out with everything, I’m sure it will,” he said.

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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