Nearly a month after joining the D-Day invasion at Utah Beach, a young and battle-tested Sgt. Frank Moore was riding in the back of a U.S. Army half-track in a dusty convoy out of the newly liberated French province of Normandy when the fly-fisher in him abruptly overtook the soldier.
Riding across a bridge, he leaned against one of the half-track's 50-caliber guns to peer into the stream beneath — like any rubbernecking angler worth his fly box would do — and he spied a freshly caught Atlantic salmon hanging on a hook next to the stream.
"It had to be 25 pounds, and there was a fly rod next to it," Moore recalls. "I thought, gee, it would be great to fish that stream, but we couldn't slow down. We had a job to do."
Now Moore is heading back to Normandy, armed this time with a fly rod and in the company of a film crew to document the return of Oregon's most famous fly-fisher and one of America's most recognized conservationists to his World War II haunts.
Moore will fly-fish some of the streams he saw in France when he was a soldier 69 years ago, and he will visit some of the residents he helped liberate, fulfilling long-held goals for this 90-year-old fixture of the North Umpqua River.
The journey will include Jeanne, his wife of 70 years, and his son Frankie Moore.
And Moore will carry in his mind thoughts of his fellow soldiers who crossed those same streams — and many who didn't make it that far.
"So many of those kids didn't make it the first few minutes, and here I am," Moore says from his cabin in Idleyld Park east of Roseburg. "I don't know how I can have received so many blessings throughout my life.
"This trip will be one of them," he adds.
The trip is the brainchild of John Waller, a Drain High School graduate and co-owner of Uncage the Soul Video Productions in Portland.
He filmed two shows last summer about Moore and his storied life that aired on Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Oregon Field Guide" and "Travel Oregon" shows. Moore, the founder of the Steamboat Inn and a storied wild fish conservationist, was inducted three years ago into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, and he still wades nimbly and casts smoothly and accurately on the North Umpqua.
Moore carries Oregon fishing license No. 4 and has spent decades helping put fly-fishing actors, athletes and politicians on wild steelhead, while instilling a conservation ethic in three generations worth of anglers.
During one of Waller's interviews for those shows, Moore talked about that 25-pound Atlantic salmon and his desire to fish those Normandy streams.
"That's when I knew what the greater story was," Waller says.
Waller's plan is to make two documentaries chronicling Moore's life and his return to France.
One will be a 20-minute version aimed at the International Fly-Fishing Festival's 130 worldwide screenings that begin early next year, Waller says. A second version of close to 50 minutes will be pitched to PBS, the Discovery Channel and others before being offered online as a download, he says.
The company is in the last week of its fundraising effort for the project. Waller estimates he'll need about $50,000, and the group so far has raised about $20,000, yet plans to head to France May 23 regardless.
They will remain into early June, fishing streams for brown trout and Atlantic salmon with locals.
A company representative in France is lining up locations to fish based on Moore's incredible recollections of the rivers he spied during the war.
"The acuity of what he was able to remember and relate in French was astonishing," Waller says.
Moore was just 21 when he landed on Utah Beach as an operations sergeant June 7, and took his first live fire in a barrage of artillery at "Purple Heart Corner."
In the ensuing weeks, he joined the 83rd Infantry Division as it fought its way through Normandy, Brittany and into Luxembourg before joining a British unit during the Battle of the Bulge. He eventually joined Gen. George Patton on his march to Berlin, only to make way for the Russians to take the city as the war ended.
"We did what we had to do, but I was no hero," Moore says. "I didn't charge any machine-gun nests or bunkers like I saw guys doing. Those guys were the heroes. I just helped wherever I could."
Still, Moore was more soldier than fly-fisher, concentrating on survival for himself and his comrades rather than what kinds of bugs brown trout were sipping in the streams they forded.
"Sometimes, though, you'd see some beautiful little stream and wonder if there were fish in it," he says. "Usually, though, you just didn't have time."
After literally bumping into Patton one day in camp at Bad Tolz, Germany — "I kind of turned and bumped into him with my head down, and the first thing I focused on were those pearl-handles on his pistols," he says — Moore eventually made his way back to Oregon and Jeanne. They settled on the North Umpqua River, where his work to protect wild steelhead and their habitats earned him more conservation awards than Patton earned stars.
May 25 will be spent at the Luxembourg cemetery where Patton was buried. They'll be guests during that country's Memorial Day.
"That's going to be very touching for me," Moore says.
And those 90-year-old legs will deftly wade those streams of his youth, finally armed with a fly rod while cameras whirl so others can share Moore's experience.
"It'd be a gift to be able to fish those streams I saw," he says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarkCFreeman