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Stan’s Story Part 2

I introduced you to Stan Fagerstrom last month with his story “It Was No Big Deal.” This month we begin to hear more about Stan’s life after WWII as a newspaper reporter, his early beginnings to becoming the “Master Caster,” and about three Japanese flags finding their way back home.

stan fagerstrom

They Finally Got Back Home

By Stan Fagerstrom

I cradled my rifle as I crawled through the lush undergrowth of the South Pacific Island where we were fighting. I noticed a small clearing off to my right. A Japanese soldier’s packsack lay in the middle of the clearing. I crawled over to it. Inside, carefully folded, was a personal Japanese battle flag. The flag was inscribed with Japanese characters. I stuffed the flag inside my fatigue jacket, tossed the packsack aside, and crawled back to my platoon. It was November 17, 1944. I was a sergeant in Company G, 167th Infantry Regiment, 31st Infantry Division. American forces were steadily advancing all over the South and Central Pacific. The flag was one of three I would eventually take during my time in combat during World War II. There wasn’t much I could carry months later when I was brought back to the United States. I was flown home on a stretcher in a hospital plane. I was able to stuff the three personal Japanese flags inside my jacket. When I finally got out of the hospital and was sent home after being discharged, those three flags went into a beat up old leather suitcase along with my dog tags, a knife, and a few other mementoes from those days in the jungle. There they were to remain for the next 52 years.

I went to work as a reporter for a daily newspaper not long after my discharge from the Army. My primary hobby had always been sports fishing—especially bass fishing. I started writing a fishing column during my first year of newspaper employment. Not too long after that I sold my first feature to a national fishing magazine. As mentioned, my first fishing choice was bass fishing. It soon became apparent that one of the few things I could do about my bass fishing success was to improve my casting accuracy. I began practice casting at every opportunity. That practice did wind up bringing the accuracy I was after. It also brought something else I’d not even anticipated. Word started getting around that I could handle my rods pretty darn well. I soon discovered the folks who marketed rods and reels were always looking for someone to properly demonstrate their products. When the Ambassadeur casting reels were first imported from Sweden by the Garcia Corporation in 1951, the man who was responsible for the sales of these fine new bait casting reels in the western United States paid me a visit. He gave me two of these new Ambassadeur 5000 reels and asked me to try them for a couple of weeks.

After I used them long enough to discover just how good they were he came to see me again. This time he made an offer that was to eventually make major changes in my life. “Stan,” he said, “how’d you like to come to Los Angeles next April and demonstrate these reels for 11 days at the big outdoor show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium? I’ll give you those two reels I loaned you and two new rods to go with them if you accept. I’ll also pay all your expenses but that’s it. I’ll not pay you a dime more.” It took almost all of my vacation time but I accepted that offer. The offer was made to me in late 1951. The show was to be held in early 1952. Little did I realize the many doors accepting the offer made to me that day would eventually open.

I had opportunity at that Los Angeles show to watch and work with the world’s professional casting champ as well as another expert who was at the top of the amateur ranks. I thought I was pretty good when I went to that show. What I immediately discovered was I still had a long way to go. I practiced what I learned at that show at every opportunity once I got home. It wasn’t long before I attained the proficiency I sought. I set a small plastic coffee cup out 30-feet away and I could knock the hell out of it with my practice casting weights. And once the word got around of what I’d managed to accomplish those doors I mentioned started opening. I continued to maintain my newspaper job but spent every extra minute performing at outdoor shows all over the place. I would eventually leave my newspaper work and turn to full time freelance writing. Once I did that I could then tailor my schedule to accept more outdoor show offers.

So what has this information about exhibition casting have to do with those Japanese flags I told about taking in the beginning? It was to be a whole more than I ever could have imagined in those earlier dark days out there in the jungles of the South Pacific…..

To be continued…See the conclusion to “They Finally Got Back Home” in next month’s newsletter