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Ronan's report

Friday 8th June, 2012

This story won the 2004 Robert Traver Fly-Fishing Fiction Award. It was written by Bill Monan, as a tribute to his father and all those who serve in the Armed Forces.

I am presenting it here in two parts. There will be no joke or cheesy bit at the end of this piece; I respect the story and the writers experiences and his fathers memory too much for that.

Part one of the story as presented in FlyRod&Reel, November/December - 2004 issue.

Late March 1945 – This war was all but over. You could tell by the arrival of staff officers on the line. They usually appeared in pairs, stepped out of their jeeps, looked officious and if they were lucky, would be shelled by less then accurate German mortars. They would then quickly remount and run like hell to the rear all the while congratulating themselves on getting the Combat Infantry Badge and perhaps the Bronze Star.

My platoon, all of 20men, more like a glorified squad, had been dug in along the edge of a stream in western Austria for four days. It was a luxury of sorts, since it was unusual for us to be so static. Everything was moving fast and resistance, though sporadic, was still lethal, and none of us had any urge to be the last casualty. The one good thing was that it appeared the Germans felt the same way overall. We had been sent forward to this stream, the Erlauf, near the town of Scheibbs, to ensure that the bridge was secure and to hold the position until we were relieved. At first the Germans fired a few mortar rounds and a volley of machine gun fire to let us know they were indeed on the other side, but had since been silent.

I looked down the line where my men had dug in and could only see piles of dirt with eyes – mud soldiers. At this point you could probably throw seed on them and grow crops. No longer did they have names. It was just “You, You and You, over there,” “You and You, that way,” and “You stay here.” To my men I was just “Lieutenant.” Only Sergeant Malvani had a name, and it was “Conductor.”.

He was an unlikely sergeant – scrawny, short, glasses and very long, elegant fingers. He had been a concert violinist back home and had been 4F’d early on, but after Normandy and all the losses, the draft board eventually decided he was just perfect. We called him the Conductor after he lost two fingers to shrapnel somewhere in the Ardennes and, upon discovering his loss, he remarked that his violin days were over and he would become a conductor. He never spoke of it again. It was what made him such a good sergeant; he just adapted and made stuff happen.

We weren’t at all similar, Malvani and I. He was actually a city boy and relatively sophisticated, and I was just an ROTC graduate from Westkill, New Your. The oly symphony I had ever heard was the thunder in the Catskills and the tumbling of water over rocks on the Willowemoc. But we were similar on one account: We had both been promoted primarily for surviving. The only thing that bothered me about Sgt Malvani was that he wore a helmet into which a bullet had entered on the left side before somehow miraculously spinning across the front casing and exiting through the right.

I said to him, “Sergeant, you need to dump that helmet. It only reinforced the men’s belief that their leaders have no brains.”

”Well, me accepting these sergeants stripes just proves they’re right.” I left it alone, but it gave me the creeps.

After a while, it struck me that it really had gotten quiet. I mean, I was actually thinking. I could not remember a time over the last year when my brain wasn’t being banged from one side of my skull to the other by artillery fire. I decided to peek over the edge of my foxhole to scan the other side of the stream. I saw nothing moving, which was normal. You never saw anyone out front-not anyone alive, that is. What I did notice was the stream.

To my left it made a broad turn back toward the German lines, where it channeled deep and close to a steep rock wall. As it flowed toward me it straightened out and formed a nice, flat pool about 50 yards long and 50 yards wide, just at the place where both of our lines faced one another. The stream ran down to my right under the bridge and faded into the darkness created by the canopy of overhanging tree. The milky, green-tinged water ran fast and cold. The Esopus, back home in the Catskills, had the same look in early spring and I began to see in each pocket of water and riffle a place where, with the right presentation and the right fly, a nice brown trout would come roaring out of the water. I started to see Junction Pool at Roscoe, where the Little Beaverkill merges with the Willowemoc and where the late evening hatch would emerge and all hell would break loose as trout gorged on Green Drakes or Blue Quills or something else that I usually could never match.

Now, while you might expect most men in my situation to be thinking of women, most of us had lost our libidos somewhere between the first hundred yards of beach in Normandy and the hedgerows on the Rhine. But thoughts of trout I could handle. I remembered my dad teaching me how to fly-fish on the little Westkill, which ran right behind our house. The first trout I caught on a fly was a beautiful 12-inch native brook. I used a brown dry fly. My dad didn’t have any names for the flies. He just said, “Match the damn color as best you can or make something up that’s black with a little red on it.” And that’s what we did. Working in our garage at night, pulling feathers from grouse capes, cutting up deerskins, and even slicing little chunks of wool from our socks, we would make our flies. My mom thought we had a terrible moth problem.

I thought of Fir Brook and how my dad and I would head up high when it had rained enough for the Willowemoc and Beaverkill to run fast and muddy. The Fir was a small stream, hard to fish and it dropped into a small gorge that required you to commit most of a day working small pockets of water behind boulders and little waterfalls. We would use about five feet of line and just flick it over a rock into any likely spot, and the brook trout would strike like piranhas on a wounded pig. We only used tiny black ants, since the average trout was about eight inches, but I do believe a pig cast just right would have provoked those greedy little brookies to strike as well.

My reverie was aborted by a sharp slap to the back of my helmet and a voice so close to my ear that th strident whisper sounded like shell fire, saying “Wake up Lieutenant, something’s moving across the stream!” .

I stared hard across the stream and noticed pieces of loose shale and dirt slipping down the face of the embankment from a thick hedge. A German soldier slid down the bank and took a few tentative steps towards the edge of the stream. .

Sergeant Malvani raised his M-1. I grabbed the end of this rifle and said, “Hold off Sergeant; when have you ever seen a living German out front? They haven’t shot at us for three days. Tell the men to hold their fire.”.

Sergeant Malvani looked at me like I was insane, but waved down the men. We waited and watched.

As will you gentle readers, wait and watch until next week. Now shut down the computer , turn off the monitor and go out side and enjoy the freedom that was so hard fought for and at the highest price by some.

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