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'and it was THIS big!'

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'About all I do is build rods and go fishing. I'm self employed, so I can go anytime I want to.'

By Calen McKinney

Ed Bright can't work without his music. Today, it's George Jones.

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Bright, 67, makes fishing rods and says he has sold them to at least one person in all of the United States and three other countries.

Born and raised in Yuma, Bright's interest in fishing was sparked at a young age and is something he says he has passed on to his children and grandchildren.

Bright began making fishing rods after his broke while vacationing in Florida a little more than 25 years ago.

He purchased a new rod to use during the rest of his trip but decided to keep the broken rod and see if he could repair it.

He did, he said, and used it for 10 more years. He eventually sold it.

"I guess it's still fishing," he said.

He says he began making his own rods because he couldn't afford to buy them.

"Now I build them," he said.

On a fishing trip in 1984, a man approached Bright and asked him where he had bought his fishing rod. After learning that he had made the rod himself, the man asked Bright if it was worth $60 to him.

"I came home $60 richer," he said.

Bright decided to keep making rods and eventually began his own small business. He says he'll keep that business until he's no longer able.

"I plan on dying in this chair, sitting here," he said.

Today, Bright sells his fishing rods for either $70 or $115, depending on the size. He says word of mouth is what gets his name out to those looking to buy new fishing rods, and perhaps a little show and tell.

In all, Bright says it takes about six hours to make each fishing rod. If someone orders on Monday, it will be ready on Wednesday, he said. Those interested can contact him at 465-7639.

Though Bright sells the majority of his rods, he says he gives several away to children who are battling cancer.

"Kids have a soft spot in my heart," he said.

Bright has also given one of his rods to former President George W. Bush.

He said he called the White House gift shop and asked if anyone had ever given a president a fishing rod as a gift. He was told that no one had and he asked if he could send one that he had made, knowing that Bush likes to fish.

"You don't send the president flowers," he said. "[I told them], when he retires, it would be a good thing for him to take."

Bright didn't originally plan to start a fishing rod business. He first wanted to make a career out of serving in the U.S. Army, though he wound up working as a postmaster for nearly 30 years.

After graduating from high school in 1960, Bright joined the Army. Perhaps a military career was fitting, he said, because he was born on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed in World War II, Dec. 7, 1941.

When he first began his service, Bright was given a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in Germany that he says he intended to keep and make his career. Then he received a letter stating that he had been ordered to Fort Lewis, Wash. for training. He asked his commanding officer if that meant he was headed for Vietnam.

"He said, 'Your orders don't say anything about Vietnam.'"

But that's where he ended up.

"I learned how to kill people. That's basically all the military is," he said.

"It was a beautiful country, but years of war took its toll on its beautification."

While in Vietnam, Bright was in charge of wiring flight helmets with intercom systems. He was injured in July 1967, he said, after a helicopter he was riding in was hit by enemy fire.

"It lit up like a firecracker in a match box," he said.

Seventeen people were killed, he said, and only a few lived through the combat that followed the explosion.

"I knew it was time ... to pack up and get out of dodge."

However, he said, it was a little too late. Bright was hit in his neck by pieces of the exploding helicopter.

He was knocked unconscious and fell 75 feet. He said he remembers lunging forward and his helmet falling off.

Bright was sent to the Louisville VA Medical Center for treatment. His neck was rebuilt, along with his leg, which was injured when he fell.

"And did it ever hurt," he said. "That was the only place I hurt."

After serving in the Army for 11 years, Bright decided not to reenlist.

"It didn't excite me as when I first joined," he said. "I joined when I was 16. [Being too young], I had to get Daddy to sign. I had never known anything else."

Bright's hopes of having an Army career were gone when he was called to Vietnam.

"That kind of blew the silver lining out of the cloud," he said.

He says at one point during his several hospital stays, he actually died for eight seconds. Since then, he said, he has viewed life differently.

"I think there was a lot of intervention from the man upstairs," he said. "I look at life a lot different."

He said he remembers leaving the hospital for the last time, seeing an American flag, and saying, out loud, "What in the hell have I just done?"

After coming back to Campbellsville, Bright had 12 different jobs in the first year after his service was up. He then went to work at the Campbellsville Post Office, and Bright later worked as postmaster of the Elk Horn and Mannsville post offices. He retired in December 1998 after working just shy of a combined 30 years.

Though he had a pin stroke last November, Bright says he has since received good reports from his doctors.

Now, he says he spends his time in the workshop behind his home, perfecting his fishing rod making skills.

"About all I do is build rods and go fishing," he said. "I'm self employed, so I can go anytime I want to."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.