On Tuesday morning I sat in my truck overlooking the Menemsha Harbor as heavy rain poured down, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the distance. I looked over toward the jetties and saw fishermen walking back on the rocks at a fairly fast pace. The scene made me think about the first striped bass I caught off those same jetties in a thunderstorm when I was 10 years old, more than 50 years ago.

Annual heroes welcome at the airport. — Albert O. Fischer

I was supposed to meet my friend Scott McDowell at 7 a.m. to help him take out a wounded veteran on his charter boat the Lauren C, but the stormy weather was dictating when we would leave. Scott is one of six charter boat captains who have donated their time annually for the past seven years for the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge.

The American Heroes Saltwater Challenge was first created in 2008 when seven-year-old Jack Nixon read an article about recovering wounded veterans. Jack being an avid fisherman and a mini junior derby winner of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, said to his parents, Bob and Sarah Nixon, how wonderful it would be to bring wounded veterans to the Vineyard and have them fish the derby. Bob and Sarah supported their son’s wish and created this wonderful event where a dozen or more veterans come each year with their spouses and friends for a three-day get away to fish, play golf and enjoy meals together. The trip is all expenses paid, mostly by the Nixons along with donations made by Island organizations, businesses and too many Island volunteers to mention.

The rain continued to pelt the roof of my truck as I thought about questions I might ask the veteran I was about to meet for this article. My mind switched to a dream I had about the Viet Nam War the night before, a war I fought and was wounded three times in back in 1969 and 1970. I don’t dream about the war very often but I knew because of my involvement with the American heroes saltwater challenge that I was going to have dreams about it. No big deal. When I first returned from Viet Nam, I dreamt about the war every night for two years and the sound of thunder used to bother me because I associated the noise with bombs and artillery. I wondered if the thunder was making the veterans staying at the Beach Plum Inn think about war.

Annual fishing trip forges bonds on and off the Island. — Albert O. Fischer

At 8 a.m. Captain McDowell showed up at the harbor as the storm subsided. The veteran, Joe Roberts, arrived 15 minutes later.

A Chilmark police officer happened to be driving by and offered his help with lifting Joe in his wheelchair up and over various obstacles leading down a ramp to Scott’s boat.

A few years ago, Scott had a shipyard cut a swinging door in his boat’s transom just for the purpose of allowing the handicapped to gain easier access while boarding. A retired noncommissioned officer who was a friend of one of the visiting veterans also came aboard for the fishing trip.

We pulled out of Scott’s slip and motored over to Menemsha Texaco, where other wounded veterans were climbing aboard five other charter boats operated by Capt. Jennifer Clarke on Femme Fatale, Capt. Jonathan Boyd on Mary Sea, Capt. Buddy Vanderhoop on Tomahawk, Capt. Chip Vanderhoop on Intimidator and Capt. Joe El-Deiry on Island Girl.

With cold drinks and snacks aboard, the fleet motored out of the harbor. Four boats headed for Squibnocket and two steered for the north shore.

Displaying the bounty at derby weigh station. — Albert O. Fischer

After a 20-minute ride, the Lauren C was off shore between the Squibnocket Cliffs and Noman’s Land. It was a picture from heaven.

I helped Scott put out three rods that trolled lines with diving fishing lures attached. Within minutes we had a fish on, only to lose it after a short battle — the fish obviously wasn’t hooked well but the early strike got us all pumped up and excited.

The fog rolled in thickly, blocking out land and the other small boats fishing nearby. Scott turned his radar on to keep track of the other boats.

The fog was short lived and shortly we began catching bluefish under bright and sunny skies.

We fished for four hours, shared funny stories from our past, told jokes and laughed the hours away.

Joe and I touched on our war experiences just a bit. We both were out to catch fish, have a good time and not talk about war and that is what we did. All told we brought aboard seven bluefish. The fish were small but that’s okay, we all had a great time fishing on the Lauren C.

Photos: Saltwater Heroes Arrive on the Vineyard.