Jerry Schock is halfway wedged into a kayak at the Kelsey Bass Ranch lake. The front half floats on the waves, the rear is held by Don Anglin, Northern California Chapter coordinator of Heroes on the Water. Sonny Nguyen, wearing shorts and sandals, helps steady the kayak while standing in the water.
"You got two rod holders," Anglin tells Schock, who's trying to jam his prosthetic left leg into the craft. "Are you right-handed or left-handed?" he asks the Army veteran. Right-handed. "OK, you can get there now."
Nguyen, who's already reeled in a 17-inch bass, says, "This is the best fishing platform," and steps aside. Anglin gives the kayak a shove. Schock grabs the two-bladed paddle and begins to pull water past him on either side of the kayak.
"You are free!" shouts Anglin.
And he's right.
Schock, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident after serving in the Army stateside and in Germany, was one of a couple dozen vets who traveled from all over California Friday on an important mission.
To go fishing.
Supervisor Deidre Kelsey and husband Jon made their 125-acre lake and three miles of shoreline near Snelling available to the disabled men and women. The 7,000-acre ranch has been in the Kelsey family since 1852, and the lake contains Florida bass, bluegill, catfish and trout.
Besides members of private bass clubs, the Kelseys open the lake to a 4H annual fishing derby and Take a Special Kid fishing events.
Friday, the fishermen came from the VA's Wounded Veterans in Stockton, Livermore, Palo Alto and Wounded Warriors from Bakersfield. Besides kayaks, other volunteers, such as Jack Whiting, a former Navy man, Frank Sacramento, based at An Loc in Vietnam in the early 1970s, and Brian Jackson, a medic with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, brought bass boats, food and water.
And rods and reels and lures with names like Green Weenie, New Melons and, simply, The Thing.
One of the first to arrive was Lt. Col. Larry Raynor, using a metal cane because of two bad knees caused by jumping out of aircraft as an infantry officer, then getting run over by a fellow soldier during a rocket attack in Qatar.
The Arkansas native spent 28 years in the service, half on active duty, half in the reserves. He met Anglin five years ago and, as a kayaker and scuba diver, found Heroes on the Water a natural fit.
Also leaning on a cane was Ramon Ontiveros, a former Navy cryptologist, who suffered a stroke and is just getting his bearings back. He lost a brother and cousin in Vietnam, where he himself served 1968-70. Why'd he come fishing? "I do it in memory of them."
Father and son Jon H. and Jon T. Wessling also showed up to wet a line. Both were in the Air Force, and the younger aviator boarded C-17s in both Iraq and Afghanistan on medevac, cargo and rescue flights. "After 9/11 I just wanted to join the military," Jon T. recalls.
Veterans Administration recreation therapists Miriam Trigueros and Andrew Dopney helped shepherd five veterans to the lake, including three suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anglin's motives are simple. "I want to get 'em out," he says after pushing Jerry Schock out to fish. "I want 'em to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, helping one another." He makes an unintentional pun: "I want to get the vets hooked on this, to enter civilian life with great people to help 'em out the rest of their lives."
Schock likes to fish, but this was the first time he'd been to a Heroes on the Water event. Earlier this week, he landed a 7.5-pound rainbow trout at Chabot Lake in Castro Valley. "I have a kayak," he says, "but I need somebody to go with me. This worked out fine."
Now he's got buddies who'll launch him in his kayak.
Whiting and Sacramento have been barbecuing chicken and sausage all morning. The Gallo Winery donated some premium cheese, and other organizations chipped in for the chow. Veterans and volunteers begin to line up under an awning to fill their plates.
A Pacific breeze ripples the lake's waves and cools the people standing under the tent. A few vets have already reeled in bass and, according to the lake's policy of catch-and-release, removed the hook and slipped them back into the water.
Natalie Whiting, Jack's daughter, is chasing a butterfly, clutching a white cup in which she hopes to catch it.
It's hard to imagine what brought the vets to this shore, what they went through to get here, what the chance to catch a fish may mean to them.
Two VA buses were enlisted to bring some of them to the lake from Palo Alto. On the back of each is painted a slogan that tells us all we need to know:
"All Gave Some. Some Gave All."
Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.