It's not every day that one has the opportunity to interview someone who fought against Hitler's forces during the Invasion of Normandy. However, once I learned that Frank Moore was coming to town, I knew I wanted to speak with this legendary fly fisherman, who is also known and respected worldwide for representing those involved in the tumultuous and violent battles surrounding D-Day.
Now 91 years of age, Moore has led an amazingly varied and storied life. As a young man in the 453rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, he landed on Nazi-occupied Utah Beach on June 7, 1944, just one day after the initial attack. Continuing further into Normandy, Moore and his fellow soldiers pressed on. In the end, he would make it all the way to Luxembourg and take part in the Battle of the Bulge.
In the 1950s, he turned his love and talent for fly fishing into a business, by opening the Steamboat Inn on Oregon's North Umpqua River on the Cascade Range. It has become something of a holy place for serious fisherman around the world, many of whom make pilgrimages to stay at this fabled inn and learn the art of this meditative sport from the unexpectedly spry and sharp Moore, who was recently inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
In May of last year, Moore and his family made a pilgrimage of their own. The goal was for Frank to retrace his steps from almost 70 years earlier, to follow the path he and his fellow soldiers took from the beaches of Normandy onward, stopping along the way to reminisce with his children and to enjoy an aspect of the French, German and Luxembourg countryside that he could not during wartime: Fishing. The entire trip was financed by an independent film production company, with the result being the touching, thoughtful and inspiring documentary "Mending The Line," which has been shown throughout the world, primarily via Telluride MountainFilm.
This organization has a longstanding connection with Savannah, as we host an annual touring version of its acclaimed festival, and it's through this connection that "Mending The Line" will be screened Nov. 10 at Armstrong State University's Student Union, with Moore himself, members of his family, director Steve Engman and Telluride MountainFilm On Tour director Henry Lystad in attendance. The following morning, Moore will be honored to serve as grand marshal of Savannah's Veterans Day Parade.
Seating at this special screening is limited, so interested folks are encouraged to reserve their tickets early. However, it's worth noting that the next MountainFilm Festival in Savannah is in late January, and will close with this documentary, as well.
The following are highlights from my phone conversation with Moore.
How did this film come to be? Was it your idea?
Moore: Oh gosh no, Jim. I landed in Normandy, and after the breakout we were in route trying to take St. Malo. Going across a bridge over the Saloon River, I looked down and saw a huge Atlantic salmon hanging outside of a little cafÃ©. I loved fishing at that time, and I thought, oh gosh, if I could just stop and get a fly rod out and try for one of those!
That vision has always stayed with me. So I got to go back. They took me there and I fished for salmon in that little stream. One of the most emotional moments in the whole trip for me was when we were at Utah Beach on June 6 of last year, and I got to watch my Frankie walk up through the dunes at the exact same place where I walked up in 1944. That was something.
Did you have any trepidation about returning to this area, after the intense and difficult action you saw there so long ago?
Moore: No. I was looking forward to it. I really was. It's an emotional thing, but it was really wonderful. Especially with my son there with me. He'll be 68 in April. He's a doctor and lives up in Alaska.
Have you been to Savannah before?
Moore: I was stationed at Camp Stewart in the summer of 1943, before it became Fort Stewart. If I remember correctly, we were bivouacked about five miles East of the camp itself, right out in the swamp. And it was a terrible place!
Everything bad that flew, crawled, walked or swam was there. We stayed clean by swimming in whatever river that is that goes through there, and we just lived in pup tents the whole time. I thought for sure we were gonna go to the South Pacific after doing that! (Laughs.)
This will be my first time back. I got a couple of leaves into Savannah, and it was a beautiful little city. I was used to the Pacific Ocean out here where it's 52 to 56 degrees. If I recall correctly, there was a place called "Savannah Beach," does that sound familiar?
It's actually called Tybee Island, but a lot of folks did and still do call it Savannah Beach.
Moore: Well, there was no construction there at all then. It was practically a virgin space. The beach was absolutely beautiful and the water was 80-something degrees. Wow, was that a treat! I mean, we thought, Georgia's not so bad, after all. (Laughs.)
That was a blessing. I got to go down there a couple of times, and it made my time there worthwhile.
Is being the grand marshal of a Veterans Day Parade all that it's cracked up to be?
Moore: It's interesting. Jim, you know, I'm gonna use a term now that bothers me. Everyone always focuses on me and says that I'm a hero.
I was not a hero. I did a job.
And while I was at an historic place at an historic time, I saw a lot of kids in action that to me really were heroes. In my judgment, in World War II and also in Vietnam, in the same way, I have seen the lieutenant or the platoon sergeant get up and say, "Go! Go! Go!" and watched those kids in the infantry platoons jump up and run right into fire, you know? I've often wondered if I could have done it. It's always been in the back of my mind.
I saw it done, and I've been involved in a lot of things, but I didn't have to do that, Jim. To me, those kids were the real heroes.
What sort of a reception has the film received so far?
Moore: Just remarkable. You know it's supposed to be a fishing story, with me returning to France and all that. But what it turns out to be, in my judgment, is a love story of me and my wife. I have a real angel for a companion in my life. Family is very important to me.
I know you will tour Fort Stewart while you are here. Drawing on your lifetime of experiences both in and out of the service, what sort of advice might you give to the active military men and women of today?
Moore: You know, I don't think I could give any advice to them, son. All I could say is just: Do your duty. Do your duty. And also respect the people around you, including the civilians. And even your enemy, sometimes.
You've heard of instances where we've seen man's inhumanity to man come into play? That's how I'll put it. It's so very easy in a time of conflict like that. But you still have to respect the fact that it's human life.
One thing I'll never forget: We shot down this one German aircraft, and the pilot bailed out. Now on the way down, he was helpless in that parachute. And they started raking him with machine gun fire. To me, that's not fighting a war. That's murder. I've seen things like that happen, and it's so wrong. We still should be civilized human beings, even in a time of conflict.
I appreciate you voicing that, Frank. I really do.
Moore: I'm looking so forward to being down there.
Well, as long as you don't have to stay in that pup tent in the swamp!
Moore: (Laughs.) Oh, and the alligators would come and try to break into our tent! You wouldn't believe it! If you went swimming, you had to watch out for water moccasins or copperheads. They ran over a rattlesnake one time with a Jeep and it was a monstrous thing that stretched completely across the full width of the road. Everywhere you stepped, there was something else to look out for: Mosquitoes, chiggers, anything that could hurt you. (Laughs.)
Well, you're lucky you survived basic training!
Moore: Jim, you're right. (Laughs.) We were lucky to survive Camp Stewart, let alone the Battle of the Bulge!