U S M C and Epiphany at Sea

Every day seventeen veterans die by suicide. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Esler Faulkner waited for “a thousand Japanese soldiers to come across the river and wipe our ass out.”

And come they did.

A bit about U.S. Marine Esler Faulkner through his son, Greg:

Esler was 145 pounds of Marine poster material. Nobody could mess with him. If you did, “both of you would be arrested, and you were going to the hospital,” said Greg. Esler was a WWII Marine Corps Pacific Island hopper: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, and many more Pacific war islands. Esler Faulkner was in the brig when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; he got out because of the attack. Japan would have preferred Esler was kept in his cell.

But, “I couldn’t get my daddy to shoot a duck or anything,” said Greg. Some Louisiana men tried to set his dad up with shooting a fourteen-point buck they had been tracking for years. One night Greg and his dad, as suggested by these men, staked out a pond for the buck. The buck did show, and Greg could see through the darkness that his dad was no more than 15 feet away from the hulking animal. An easy shot for a huge prize.

That’s when Greg heard his dad say, “Shoo, shoo!” clapping his hands as he did and chasing the buck away.

Greg said, “He’d shoot a human being but not an animal.” That night, after shooing the buck away, Greg’s dad told him of a night of combat, “sitting behind sandbags with 300 other Marines from the First Division waiting for a thousand Japanese soldiers to come across the river and wipe our ass out.” And come they did. His dad said, “I killed many human beings, but I’ll never kill an animal.” Esler told Greg, “ I’ve killed more men than you will ever shake hands with. That deer has done nothing to me. I only come with you to be with you. I carry this shotgun in case some wild ass country boy  shoots in our direction… I’ll drop him”. So they went home, put the guns in the closet, and bought a boat. But, even on the sea, his dad would mostly—catch and release.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell
Standing ready—Greg’s dad, Esler Faulkner, left, with USMC buddies.

When Greg Faulkner commented on my environment post, “Angels in Our Midst,” https://tinyurl.com/y9sdukos, I called to speak with him. And when I asked about the dog barking near his phone, Greg said he and his wife, Debbie, had 11 dogs, many disabled: “We have one blind dog, two with cancer, one can’t walk.” So yes, I wanted to speak a lot more with this man.

Greg’s wife, Debbie, is the primary in these rescues; if someone is to put their dog down, she inquires —and often rescues. Greg is a mover for compassion in his own right—these days.

Greg was a teacher, but thirty-five years ago, he began to work at a trade that imperiled many sea creatures. Greg made and repaired gill nets. Gill nets sometimes kill needlessly.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, over 300,000 small whales, porpoises and dolphins die in net entanglements each year, the single largest cause of death for small cetaceans.

Photo, World Wildlife Fund

Greg said, “A gill net is a long net made with loose panels of netting that fish run into and entangle themselves,” nets that are “three or four football fields” long. They are not selective, “it catches everything…turtles, seabirds. A fisherman puts his net out then goes home or camps out on the boat and waits.” When nets are hauled in seabirds dive to get the fish and become entangled themselves.


Greg also made trawl nets. He said his Innovative Net Systems, http://www.fishtrawls.com/ ” specialized in extremely well-designed shrimp and fish gear. ” Our reputation spread, and our nets were now fishing in all 7 Seas.”

“Efficient nets are not evil,” Greg explained, “most fishermen just want to put food on their tables.” But he said, “I built very detailed very efficient nets..I wanted my gear to be the best, and it was…it was too efficient….We were dropping one or two megaton nukes. it was overkill.”

But Greg said, “At about the turn of the century, I had the opportunity to go fishing with my kids. I remembered well enough where our old gill net spots were. Trip after trip, we came up with minor or no catches at all. Where were the fish? Easy answer, there weren’t any or at least very few.”

“Words of my paw came back to me, ‘ You can’t keep taking fish out of the water faster than they can reproduce.'” Greg said, “My gear was too efficient,” It was like “we were dropping nukes.”

Greg said, “I thought of all the tonnage of dead fish, called, bycatch, that was discarded from trawling nets and thrown overboard as waste. Call it an epiphany or a message from my now deceased paw, but I had a distaste for building commercial fishing gear from then on.” Epiphany moved Greg—and change he did.

Epiphany, from the Greek, is a Christian feast day, Jan 6th, the revelation of God incarnate, as Jesus Christ. Today, people often use it as revealing an insight that changes them.

Epiphanies run through humankind, sudden changes in a person, a change that can slowly spread through humanity, changes beginning with a just flash of insight.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead related the earliest epiphany for compassion. A find of human remains that were 15,000 years old that showed a fractured femur—a fracture that had healed. This leg bone would take six weeks to heal and if the human was unable to forage, hunt, or flee predators, death was certain. Other humans had to assist, had to feel something beyond self-preservation. Something we might today call—compassion for other living things. This act is considered the first sign of civilization among humans.

Remains with broken femur, Photo, Australian National University

Sometimes fishing nets are lost to the sea and settle on the bottom. Weights keep part of the net on the seabed, but top floats keep some netting off the seabed. Greg said, “you could have a mile or more of fish netting, rising six to fifty feet off the sea bed.” These nets are known as “ghost nets” and entangle countless fish and other sea creatures, needlessly—(even whales, according to NOAA)

Diver works to rescue a leatherback turtle from netting. Photo WWF

After Greg’s epiphany he developed a net with safe, top panels composed of cotton that will decompose in ghost nets and allow the top parts to float to the surface for later capture by boaters or fishermen. The weighted gill net or trawl net will stay on the bottom, gain barnacles, etc and in years become a reef.

These safe nets will last two or three years, but if the net is lost, the safe panels will rot away in just a few months. These nets require more maintenance, so safe nets have not caught on with fishermen. My humble suggestion, maybe these new safe nets could be subsidized to gain greater market interest; it might work to prevent needless ghost-net killing of marine life

A friend at a university asked if he’d like to build research nets. Greg had an emphatic, “Yes.” And he’s been doing so since.

Greg’s also worked for the UNs Fishing and Agricultural Organization, FAO, and designed nets for subsistence fishermen, Asian Islanders who fish only to live off the sea by what they catch. They get special equipment from Greg.

Greg develops nets for scientists to protect endangered and near endangered species and control the spread of invasive species such as the notorious Asian carp. Greg said, “In the midwest, you can’t drop a hook in a twelve-foot deep lake and not hit an Asian carp.”

One of Greg’s Innovative Net Systems in research to capture juvenile and adult endangered and invasive species.

He shares his expertise with Fish and Wildlife, the Corps of Engineers, universities, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey). Greg said, “I’m their net guy.”

Some endangered species are quite unusual.

Green sturgeon

Others have the beauty of liquid crystal:

Juvenile Arctic Cod

Invasive species—not so much:

Northern Snakehead, freshwater invasive species.

Invasive Snakeheads devour fish, crustaceans, small amphibians, reptiles and some birds and mammals. Photo USGS

Greg Faulkner, on Asian Carp: “you spook them and they’ll jump eight or ten feet.”:

Asian Carp leap high in a boat’s wake. The prolific invasive feeders outcompete native species and leave environmental destruction in their wake. USDA

Greg Faulkner in his shop

Greg is doing more—for veterans.

Not surprisingly, Greg’s helps military veterans. Only one percent of Americans serve in the military. Too many of these Americans are struggling, some severely. The latest figures show that seventeen veterans per day commit suicide:https://tinyurl.com/rfk4fkh

Veterans need a hand.

Greg and his partners offer theirs

Greg helps struggling veterans of many kinds through training to build quality nets to control those invasive species. The work is mentally, as well as physically, therapeutic. It’s the mindful repetition of tying a quality knot again and again. Greg trains the veterans to do this, Lt. Col. Jeff Finley organizes the program.

Greg said, ” “When you’re dealing with netting, your mind has to stay with tying those knots. And when you finished you see this big old net that you just built…You and your buddies just built this thousand-foot net, three, four football fields long. You made it; nobody’s shooting at ya. That’s a good thing.”

These nets supply Darrow Wenom and his non-profit, Silver Fin Solutions with the quality equipment needed to service the Asian Carp problem:https://www.silverfinsolutions.com

Lt Col. Jeff Finley, US Army, works with Greg and many others in their new, 2019, VetNets program.

It involves training struggling veterans to build quality nets.

Jeff Finley said, some net producers farm out labor overseas “…using poorer quality raw materials (netting, rope, twine, floats and weights) and cutting corners on knotting (using quick easy knots vs durable more complex knots) resulting in cheap nets which are easily damaged, lost… ghost nets…”

Jeff said, Greg Faulkner “is one of only a handful of Master Net Crafters left in the world today.” Jeff, himself, has a degree as a fish biologist. But his twenty-four-year career as a, “…Soldier with multiple tours overseas and in combat would have me questioning my significance…” and ” Building a net, repairing mesh, and designing something better gives me a sense of accomplishment. The therapy of “getting into the zone” and working in Zen-like concentration is somehow therapeutic and peaceful.” Zen mindfulness is a big part of helping vets to help themselves.

Jeff said, “To date, VetNets has trained five previously homeless veterans from Welcome Home Inc, https://www.welcomeveterans.org/ four children of veterans or active service members, two Reserve Soldiers, and has had hundreds of hours of volunteer veterans seeking the camaraderie of fellow veterans while tying nets.” VetNets is a non-profit program. COVID has impacted their growth, but they are already making a difference in the lives of vets:http://www.vetnets.org/

So, yeah, I donated.

Greg Faulkner has changed through his epiphany, bringing valuable expertise to species management and helping our Veterans—our platinum patriots.

Greg’s dad, Esler Faulkner, influenced Greg and might have experienced an epiphany of his own, some insight on life and death rising in him behind a wall of sandbags, a long way from home.

And perhaps epiphany was the light that brought Lt. Col. Jeff Finley to see his “multiple tours overseas and in combat that would have me questioning my significance” to work with Greg and VetNets.

Are they each evidence of our better angels, rising winds of change, epiphanies coming together in a confluence of goodwill blowing across America—the globe?

Maybe epiphanies steer, like gentle winds, this ship of humankind. Maybe they guide it in its tortuous course across this sea of life.

Be well,


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