How a 90-Year-Old World War II Veteran Explores His Past Through Fishing
I am standing at Frankfurt International Airport in Terminal 2, scanning the arrivals board.
I’m a little nervous. I’m waiting for Frank Moore, his wife and son, and a film crew to walk out of customs and around the corner. Frank is 90 years old, a World War II veteran, a man of honor. He is coming to Europe to retrace his war days footsteps, but most importantly, to go fishing.
Ahead of us is an adventure that no one can predict: 17 days of exploring wartime haunts with a veteran, taking him back to the rivers he once crossed as a young soldier, today armed not with a weapon but with a fly rod. This is proof that exploring can take place at any age. If you were responsible for making all of that go smoothly, you would be nervous as well.
In Oregon, Frank is a bit of a legend. In the late '50s, he and his wife Jeanne started the infamous Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua River, a haven to fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts alike. He’s a fly fisherman, a conservationist, and an all-around lovable character. He is even decorated with the prestigious French Legion of Honor. When he goes in for a hug, you know you have to brace yourself—this man is no weakling and he embraces you with full force. He has a firm handshake and an infectious smile. He is appreciative, says thank you a lot, can hold a conversation with just about anyone, and immediately makes you feel like you’re a member of his family.
In 1944, when Frank was 21, he was part of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, landing on Utah Beach on June 7 and continuing to make his way to Cherbourg, down to the decimated village of St. Lo and onto Paris, eventually ending up in Luxembourg and in the Battle of the Bulge.
Frank recalls a particular moment from that time. He was standing on a bridge in the small village of Pontaubault, just east of the famous tourist destination Mont Saint Michel, looking down to the water when he saw a huge salmon. In the midst of the darkness and destruction that comes in the heat of war, he managed to have a moment of clarity: He wanted a fly rod. He wanted to fish for that salmon.
Almost 70 years later he returns to fulfill a dream: to fish. That is the topic of the documentary film Mending the Line, as Frank returns to Normandy to live that exact dream and stand in those rivers on the lookout for fish.
There aren’t a lot of WWII veterans these days—time has taken its toll—and even fewer who are able to travel across the world to suit up in waders and fly cast in a river. That’s one of the many things that makes this story compelling. From the first days of the trip, it is clear that Frank has a sense of adventure and knows how to go with the flow. He’s open to new experiences, and sees the world through eyes of wonder.
As the days go on, more French words come back to him. He starts greeting me with “bonjour” every morning. He tells a funny story of a French friend coming to visit him in the U.S., bringing a few bottles of wine with him, Frank stashing them in the Steamboat Inn’s walk-in refrigerator for safe keeping. “When dinner came, he asked for his wine and I asked him if he wanted it chilled or not. He looked at me and said ‘Oh no! You never chill a red wine!’ So I went to the cooler and got a bottle of red wine, poured it into a pot and heated it up on the stove. He never noticed.” Frank chuckles. He loves telling this story, especially to Frenchmen.
Frank is full of stories from his time in the war. Both stories that he shares and those he keeps for himself. The dark moments are hidden away, only shared with his fellow soldiers that stood and fell on the same battlefield. As he stands in the rivers you can see how he might be working through some of those thoughts. With each cast, processing through another moment.
It’s hard, even impossible to understand what returning to a place where you once fought feels like. But when you’re with Frank, one thing stands out. It’s not a memory of death or destruction—although those are there—it’s an appreciation for life. A celebration of all that 90 years has given him. That appreciation is contagious, even those of us who are younger and have no direct relation to the war.
“It’s easy to ask ‘why me?’ ” he reminds me. “But you can’t ask why, you just have to live.”
And live is the one thing that Frank has done, whether it’s on a river in his home state of Oregon or here in the Normandy countryside, on a small creek that winds through rolling green pastures filled with dairy cows.
I can see that every person that Frank encounters is moved. Whether they speak a few words of English or not. Frank hugs them, kisses them on the cheek and says “mon frère.” He means it. A man that has seen so much, the one thing he has learned is that we are all connected, no matter where we are from or what we do. If I could live my life with half as much intention and passion as he has done, I would be on a good road to happiness.
And that is the lesson. Exploration isn’t just the physical journey, but also the mental one. Working through emotions, pushing your boundaries, returning to a place of pain and managing to feel joy. Being open to a people and a place and letting them influence you, to sometimes even change you. Because, as Frank reminds us, “You only get out of life what you put into it.”
Mending the Line is a documentary produced by Uncage the Soul productions. You can learn more about the film online or by following Uncage the Soul on Facebook.
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