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6th Annual Take A Vet Fishing Event

August 26, 2021

6th annual Take A Vet Fishing event held on Lake Vermilion

TOWER—Despite heavy smoke from the Greenwood Fire permeating the air on Lake Vermilion 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 Guide’s 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.”

The day’s festivities started with a guide’s 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.

“Today, we honor our men and women who gave their best when called upon…. Bless these men and women for the hardships they faced and the many sacrifices they made…” said Bakken during the invocation.  “We respect them, we thank them, we honor them, and pray that you will watch over these special people.”

Bakken’s words were spoken prior to the Cook Honor Guard VFW Post 1757 presentation of the colors, Mary Jo Ralston’s singing of the National Anthem, and the retiring of the colors.

Mixed in with all of those activities was a chance for veterans to get together to reminisce about years gone by and to reconnect on friendships that were formed many years, even decades ago, after their service to their country officially ended.

“It is great getting together to give each other shi*…” said 91-year-old U.S. Army Veteran Bob Roskoski of the word that ends with a t.  ‘I can say shi*,’ 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. 

It’s little snippets like that, that make Bakken and all of the other volunteers glad they sign up to give a little something back to our heroes.

“It’s such a pleasure for us to do this because we respect and honor these veterans,” said Bakken. “I don’t think we do enough for them, but this is just our way of giving them a special day for what they’ve done and what they continue to do.”

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.”

While the day had its somber moments because the veterans never know when there might be an empty seat at a future Take A Vet Fishing event, there were also some lighter moments.

And one of those lighter moments takes place every year when Bakken reminds all veterans, sans the Navy, to take their “seasick” pills before hitting the lake.

“It’s going to be a little choppy on the lake today, so make sure to take them,” said Bakken prior to the group taking off.

His comments drew some laughs, but when he did an update later in the day, some of the Army, Marines, and Air Force veterans might have thrown out a few hisses or light boos when Bakken gave another roast. 

“We had a record number of fish caught today, but we also broke another record, so it looks like some of you veterans forgot to take your seasick pills as we had eight Army, 10 Marines, and 4 Air Force veterans that got sick in those big waves out there,” joked Bakken.

Once the shore lunch was served, the veterans enjoyed some additional times telling each other how great it was to see one another again. 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 keeps us coming back to do this for our veterans.”

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