A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I met a man through a fishing club. He was a river guide and kayak fished like I do so we immediately had a connection there. Through messages and sharing our wisdom of fishing, he sharing the secrets of river bass and I the little knowledge of redfish on the flats I have, we became good friends. We spoke often and learned the names of each other’s family members. We both have three beautiful daughters, and our beautiful brides that love us and take care of us. We both live in the South and even though I was not born here I feel a kindred to the Southern lifestyle and feel more comfortable here in my adopted home. Most of my life, well the parts I lived in the U.S., was in the Southern parts of the country. I always felt at home here, yet when I visited up North I felt out of place, just uncomfortable. No matter where I was stationed, all my friends were from the South and we always got along like long lost brothers.
I finally returned to South Carolina, my true home, and settled in. I came back to my favorite place I called Home and to where I was assigned in the military. Then came the day I got my orders for what turned out to be my last deployment. I sent out the e-mails to my closest friends and told them of my departure and that even though I was headed to the desert I would still be fishing, fly fishing Baghdad to be exact. All of my friends wished me well but one of my friends, the man I write about here, went an extra step. He contacted people he knew at a rod manufacturer and had a beautiful 6wt travel rod sent to me so I’d have a good rod to help pass the time and keep myself sane.
I packed up my rucksack and headed East to Iraq for at least six months. The time passed quickly thanks to my fly rods and fly tying stuff. Then as I was getting low on materials I got a beautiful package from my friend. Inside was a trove of tying materials, perfect for what I was catching. Everything was in there, hooks, feathers, thread, a new bobbin, deer hair, it was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for, and then I looked in the bottom of the box and there sat three cards all hand drawn by tiny hands. They all wished me a Merry Christmas and thanked me for my service. As I sit here typing and remembering how I felt that day, I feel a tear welling up. Outside my family I had never had a stranger, for all purposes, ever think of me and go so far out of their way. I felt more proud to serve my country that day knowing I was not only doing it for my family but I was really making a difference in one other families life and they really appreciated it. I picked up the phone and called my wife that evening, my weekly morale call, and as I told her about what they had done for me she told me that she had received a gift card for a restaurant for her and the girls but didn’t know who it was from. We both sat in silence for a little bit. Both of us touched but the gesture and the caring.
In 2010 I retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22 years and my Brother here, traveled to Charleston to attend my ceremony and to offer the prayer at the opening of the event that closed that chapter that had been so much of my life. His baritone voice carried through the room, his voice and presence commanded the room and every ear was tuned to him. At any time, I can pick up the phone and he is there to answer my questions, share a story and if needed I know he would jump in his truck, come a runnin at 3AM with a shovel and not ask one single question if I needed him.
I have seen all of this in my friend. I guess the reason I am writing this is to really thank him. Every time I see him, talk to him or just see photos of him and his family, he makes me proud to call him a friend. I am proud to consider myself “Southern” and I am blessed to have someone like him that I call Brother. He is a personal Hero of mine and with events in my life, I read his words again and again and remind myself of how I need to be. I know this has very little to do with fishing but I respect and appreciate all he did and still does for me. His name is James Pressley and he is one of the TRUE Southern Gentlemen I know. Thank You James, for EVERYTHING.