By Larry Whiteley/Bass Pro Shops/Outdoor World Radio

It was the morning of July 4. A truck with three men pulled into the marina. Their families were still sleeping at the lodge where they were all staying. They got out of the truck and teased each other about who was going to catch the most fish while they unloaded their fishing gear. As they headed down the ramp to the dock, a brilliant orange sunrise lit up the eastern sky.

The pontoon boat pulled away from the dock. An American flag hung from the bow blowing gently in the breeze. A family of three generations of soldiers was celebrating Independence Day by going out crappie fishing. The father was a veteran of the Vietnam War. The son was in the Gulf War. The grandson had recently returned from Afghanistan.

They laughed, they smiled, they caught crappie. Between reeling in fish, they talked about vacations they had been on together. They talked about their beloved family deer camp. They talked about other fishing trips they had been on. They talked about kids, grandkids and military buddies. Lots of stories were shared but none about war and the things they had all seen and been through. They kept all that to themselves.

Being a soldier ran deep in this family. There had been other generations of family members who fought in World War II, the Korean War, World War I and even the Civil War. Serving their country was in their blood. It was not something that was expected of you. It was something you wanted to do. It was something you did.

They all stopped fishing for a while to watch two eagles sitting in a nest at the top of a tree. Seeing this iconic symbol of America meant as much to them as the flag waving on the front of the boat. One of the eagles flew from the nest and started circling over the water. It was out fishing, too. As it circled in the bright blue sky, it made the distinctive eagle sound, which is said to be unlike any other sound in nature. They all knew an eagle call represented a call to action. Native Americans believe the sound of an eagle gives you courage and life force to overcome your obstacles and fight against your challenge. They had all done that.

The eagle and its mate also reminded them they had family back at the lodge waiting for them to pick them up so they could have a picnic on the water. They put away their fishing gear and raised the anchor. As the boat idled into the marina, they could see their wives, kids and grandkids. It reminded all of them of the time when their families were waiting for them when they came home from war. It also reminded them of how blessed they were to make it back home to their families when so many of their buddies did not.

They loaded up food and family. The flag still waved on the front of the boat. As they motored across the lake, boats pulling water skiers and kids on tubes were everywhere. So were the jet skis. Other families were out having fun on this Independence Day. Most had no idea why we as Americans celebrate this day. No one realized three generations of soldiers had just passed them on the water.

As the pontoon boat continued across the crowded lake, the eagle flew over and circled them again. The kids loved seeing and hearing the eagle. They kept following the eagle until it led them into a quiet, shaded cove away from the crowds, and then it landed in a tree. It was almost like the eagle knew these men were three generations of soldiers and had led them to this place. The other eagle flew in and joined its mate and the families.

They unloaded water toys for the younger kids, a fishing rod for the 6-year-old, lawn chairs and a cooler full of food and drinks. The father started a campfire and got the skillet ready. The other men filleted crappie and threw what was left of each fish out on the water for the eagles as a way of saying thank you. Everyone loved watching the eagles circle the fish while making their sound and then dive down to the water for their special treat.

When everything was ready to eat, they circled together as a family, held each other’s hands and bowed their heads as the father/grandfather led them in prayer. He said, “God, thank you for the nature you created for all of us to enjoy and take care of. Thank you for men like my son and my grandson who fought for this nation that was founded upon ‘in God we trust.’ It saddens me to see our country the way it is becoming. I pray this nation will turn from its wicked ways and turn its hearts back to you. Thank you for all the many blessings you have given this family. Amen!”

As they were eating, the 6-year-old told everyone the eagles were praying, too.

“What do you mean,” said his dad. 

“I peeked at the eagles while Papaw was praying,” the boy said. “They both had their heads bowed while Papaw prayed and then raised their heads when he was done and made that sound again.” 

Everyone looked up at the eagles and smiled. Some looked back at them again and wondered.

The afternoon was filled with talking about memories, sitting in the shade, playing in the water, skipping rocks and more. The 6-year-old and his grandpa walked up the bank and found a good place for a 6-year-old to fish. Grandpa dug up a worm and put it on the little boy’s hook, then helped him cast it by a log lying in the water. The bobber went under, and Grandpa helped him reel in a little fish. It didn’t matter to the boy what size it was. He had to take it back and show everyone. Another fisherman joined the family that day.

A beautiful sunset lit up the western sky. A great day was coming to an end. They had a fun-filled afternoon as a family. They were getting ready to pull up the anchor when the fireworks started across the lake. The flag still waved on the front of the boat with the fireworks as a backdrop. The eagles saw them, too. The soldiers all stood at once and saluted the flag. The rest of the family joined them, put their hands over their hearts and all started singing “God Bless America.” The 6-year-old looked up to see his dad, grandpa and great-grandpa saluting the flag, so he did, too. His great-grandpa looked down and saw him. He knew someday his great-grandson would again hear the call of an eagle. There would be another generation of soldiers.