MONTGOMERY, Ala. – “Visiting the vets is a very humbling experience; it always is,” Edwin Evers said outside of a Central Alabama Veterans Health System hospital. “They’ve given up so much so we can do what we do.”
Evers’ sentiment was echoed by all of the Bassmaster Elite Series All-Stars who went to the the Montgomery VA this morning. They met with numerous veterans who served in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East.
Most all of the veterans were fishermen of one sort or another. Frank Graham, a Vietnam veteran, said he enjoys fishing in Mobile Bay, Ala., as well as Tampa Bay, Fla.
“I love deep sea fishing and bass fishing and think that it’s just great that these guys made it out today,” Graham said. “But, I want whoever wins the money this week to remember me!”
The All-Stars signed autographs and posed for photos with the vets, all of whom seemed to appreciate the activity. Conversation topics ranged from catfishing to cooking fish to today’s modern SONAR/GPS systems, and how the military uses many of these technologies.
Dewayne Williams recounted cleaning Ray Scott’s pool as a teenager as he chatted with Evers and asked for his autograph.
“This is real nice,” Williams said as he shook hands with Steve Kennedy, Aaron Martens and Ott Defoe. “I hope I can make it to weigh-in.”
As the group wound through the hallways of the hospital, one room caught their eye. It was an office decorated with fishing-related things, including numerous bass and salmon.
Dr. Schaffner, the occupant of the office and a dedicated angler, was not there today, but Gerald Swindle had one of the nurses dial him up for an interesting “prank” call.
“Hello, Dr. Schaffner,” Swindle said, disguising his voice and posing as a member of the Alabama Game and Fish. “It’s come to my attention that some of these fish you have hanging from the walls may not have been caught in accordance with all state regulations.”
Swindle continued to heckle the doctor for a few minutes until his identity was revealed. Schaffner seemed to enjoy the conversation, although he didn’t know it was actually Swindle until the nurses told him. He was disappointed that he could not be in attendance to meet some of his favorite anglers, Swindle included.
“There are only a couple things that could have kept me away,” Schaffner said.
Later, Trip Weldon revealed Schaffner to be one of the best anglers on the Alabama River, site of the head-to-head battles starting Friday.
The highlight for many of the veterans was getting to share fish stories with the pros. The VA hospital covers a wide area, not just Montgomery. Brian Henderson lives on Lake Eufaula, a lake many of the nine anglers have fished.
“These guys fish around my dock all the time,” Henderson said. “I tell them where to catch fish some times.”
James Kelley was visiting family at the hospital when he heard Mike Iaconelli was there and rushed into the hallway.
“I have always wanted to meet KVD and Mike Iaconelli,” Kelley said. “We fish everywhere around here, but I really like watching that Iaconelli on TV.”
Another elderly veteran’s face lit up when the anglers walked into his room. They had signed a few B.A.S.S. hats and were giving them out to the people they saw. Johnny Nelson put his on right away and was walking around the halls showing it off.
“I was over at the Bass Pro Shops in Prattville and got a few hats the other day,” said Nelson, who also offered some advice to the anglers competing this weekend. “Don’t do anything that will get you in trouble.”