Dorothea Nordstrand's Green Lake (Seattle) Memory: The Fish and the Vietnam Vet

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 6/28/2001
  • Essay 3413
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In this People's History, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) recalls an early morning encounter between two Green Lake neighbors, a Vietnam Vet, and his large fish. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Vietnam Vet

It was just after the end of the Vietnam war when many young men were returning home and trying to pick up the pieces of their interrupted lives, when this happened.

My neighbor, Marye, and I were walking the path around Green Lake. It was early on a gray and misty Seattle morning. There was an early spring chill in the air, so we were dressed for the weather in warm jackets and slacks and both of us were wearing wool scarves on our heads, tied peasant-style under our chins.

As we rounded the curve near the kiddie's pool, we noticed a young man balanced on a rock that stuck up out of the water a long-stride's-length from the edge of the lake. He was fishing. We saw that he was holding his pole awkwardly with his left hand and that his right arm was closely bound to his chest in a sling. We also noticed that he was trying to land a fish that was really jerking his pole around.

As we came even with him, he turned to us a face on which changing emotions were mirrored. Excitement, joy, and almost despair were there, in turn. It was obvious that he had made a major catch, but that he was not going to be able to land it without help. He had no net, and even if he had one would not have been able to use it with his arm out of action. Each time he managed to get the fish near, it would take a wild plunge and his reel would spin as the line streamed out into deep water.

The fish leaped, trying to shake the hook from its mouth. We were shocked. It was obviously one of the Donaldson trout which had been planted in Green Lake many years before by Professor Donaldson of the University of Washington, a fish that had been developed by him and named after him. This one must have been in the lake a long time to grow so big.

The young man's face broke into a relieved smile and he said, "Boy, am I glad to see you ladies. I was afraid he was going to get away before anyone besides me saw him. I know I won't be able to land him, but just knowing that you saw him, too, I feel much better."

Marye and I looked at each other, then said, "Reel him in, again."

He fought the big fish and managed to get him within about 10 feet of the rock. We whipped off the bandanas we were wearing on our heads and waded out into the cold water. Marye looped her scarf under the front part of the fish, while I got him from behind. Before he could bolt, we scooted him to shore. Almost two feet long and thick through the middle, he must have weighed at least six pounds ... a true Donaldson trout.

The three of us stood there grinning at each other like idiots. Marye and I were soaking wet almost to the hips and our shoes were full of water, but we were very satisfied with ourselves. Our young man found a rock, banged the fish on the head, and then I stuffed that monster into the sling he was wearing on his arm, so he could carry it home.

He told us that he had just come back from Vietnam and had come to Green Lake looking for peace of mind, since he had spent many happy hours at the lake as a child. He said he was experiencing problems adjusting to civilian life after the stress of wartime. I'm not sure he found peace, but he sure found something new to think about. His thanks were profuse. We were a couple of "angels," he said.

Marye and I sloshed along home with water oozing from our wet shoes, goose pimples on our cold, wet legs, and satisfaction in our hearts. The young man was right. We were a couple of angels. Our halos were very apparent ... at least to each other.

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