August 22, 2019

An Open Letter to Lakota

Editor’s note: Captain James Nash was one of the Marines honored during the 2013 Hunting with Heroes weekend. He was invited to the 2014 event. He was unable to make the event, but sent the following letter. Thank you Captain Nash on your commitment to our country, and sharing your story.

Dear Bernie and Jason,

Something amazing just happened, but to understand it I have to tell you a larger story.

Part one

August 2012. I lay in a hospital in Afghanistan, physically and mentally destroyed. I’ve lost one fourth of my platoon in a single battle and have a suicide watch over me at all times. I have doctors and nurses asking me questions, pumping me full of medicine. I couldn’t care less whether I lived or died, except for a black lab named Joe. He had been injured while serving as a bomb dog and came to visit me every day. I didn’t want to eat or drink or talk to anyone, but I loved seeing Joe.

Part two

November 2013. I’ve been having the time of my life in Lakota, talking with salt-of-the-earth, small-town Americans. They are the people I imagine when wondering if the sacrifices of so many are worth it. We’re walking through fields of tall grass and watching a black lab named Claire dart back and forth, flushing pheasants and retrieving them back to us again. At the end of the second day, on your place, Bernie, a bird got up a long ways out and I hit it, but it sailed into the next field. Several dogs took after it, including Claire. Then she hit a barbed-wire fence at full speed and got tangled in the wires. As she yelped in pain, hunters started to run to help her, but she freed herself. Instead of giving up, Claire ran into the field, overtook the other dogs, and chased the rooster until she caught it and retrieved it. I was nearly in tears.

Part three

I retired from the Marines in February 2014 and began the long drive from North Carolina to my home in Oregon. The drive was made longer because I stopped to look at every litter of black labs within 100 miles of my route. In Blackfoot, ID, I found the one I was looking for, set her in my truck, and finished my trip — a trip that had begun with me bleeding into the dust of a country you will never see, and ended with a female lab sleeping in my lap. Every time she woke up and looked at me, I could only smile and say, “Hi, Claire.” It had been a very long way home.

Part 4

This morning (Sunday, Nov. 9), while you were out hunting with heroes, I came home from duck hunting and saw a rooster pheasant in my back yard. This is the first pheasant I have ever seen on my property. I grabbed my Savage Over & Under you gave me, called Claire, and walked into the tall grass of the field next to my house. Claire flushed the rooster, and I wounded it and watched him sail out of sight. Claire went after him and so did I, at a dead run. She found where he landed and then 200 yards later jumped him. The two ran over the hill and out of sight again.
Then I heard barbed wire screeching and my dog yelping. It stopped me in my tracks, thinking my little dog was hurt. But in a moment she came back into sight with that rooster in her mouth. She retrieved him all the way to me. You see, Marines are called Devil Dogs. They have a job to do, and they execute that job. No matter what. I think black labs are the same. I know what it is like to be caught in the fence. Once I got out of the hospital in Afghanistan, I could have gone back to the States, but I went back to my platoon. Two months later I was wounded again. After one month in the hospital, I went back to my platoon again. When we left the country to come home, I was the last man on the plane. What you are offering those of us who are fortunate enough to hunt with you is much bigger than a fun weekend. It’s bigger than I can describe, and I thank you for it. I miss you, Lakota. I hope to see you again.

Semper Fidelis,
Capt. James Nash

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