Editor’s note: This piece was written at 5:18 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2017, the same morning that 10 members of Western Carolina University’s Bass Cats fishing team returned to campus after spending three days assisting victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.
We are all home safe. I should already be asleep, but I am overrun with emotion. Tuesday seems like a distant memory, yet it was only three days ago. To quote Billy Bob Thornton’s character in “Friday Night Lights,” my heart is full!
I have seen your Catamounts anxious, uncomfortable and borderline scared. I have witnessed them do things this week I will never forget. I am 38 years old, a combat veteran and experienced law enforcement officer. To your Catamounts, I am Paw-Paw (they must think I’m old or something). To me, they are my younger brothers.
I am writing this because you need to know how fortunate you are to have them in your lives. They are brave, compassionate, caring, respectful, empathetic, courageous and loved. They rescued people and animals. They made people smile and feel proud. They operated boats and vehicles in dangerous conditions. They were by far the youngest people actively participating in rescue operations anywhere in our area. They made me cry multiple times this week because of their selflessness, commitment and “don’t-quit” attitude.
They put others before themselves, starting when they loaded that first bottle of water at Ingles during the day on Tuesday. A little after midnight, they pointed their vehicles south, drove through the night until 3 p.m., immediately offloaded supplies and began to rescue people in Orange, Texas, until after dark, then called it quits in a Love’s Truck Stop parking lot after midnight. A few hours later at daylight, they were awake and using bottled water to brush their teeth in the parking lot. There was no complaining, only a sense of urgency.
They spent Thursday combing flooded Vidor, Texas. Their group was responsible for rescuing cows, a cat and more people. They went to a disaster relief shelter and joined people whom they had never met, unloaded donations, then slept on the floor next to volunteers they didn’t know 48 hours before. They woke up the next morning and sorted donations left overnight by anonymous heroes. When their services were no longer needed, they gave hugs and handshakes, exchanged thanks, took a couple of pictures, then pointed their vehicles north, forever changed.
Your Catamounts have made me a better person. It is one of the great honors of my life to have them be a part of it. Brothers, I love you, I respect you and I will never, ever forget you. It is inevitable we will part ways after our time as Catamounts is over, but always know these last few days will live forever in my memory and heart.
Catamount family, thank you for your overwhelming support. I am going to speak freely on behalf of my brothers when I say we have all shed tears reading your comments and being touched by your praise. While we certainly do appreciate it, that was not our goal. Our goal was to go to South Texas and help fellow human beings in crisis. I can say with pride we tried to have a positive impact on as many lives as we could. We did not do as much as we wanted to, but I feel like we did all we could under the circumstances. I hope the people we encountered were as moved by us as we were by them. We left Louisiana this morning better people after having been there.
This was written by Jason Ashe, a nontraditional student and a part-time police officer at WCU who helped organize the Bass Cats’ rescue efforts after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast in late August. The 10 team members, equipped with four pickup trucks and four boats, were involved in the rescue of 41 people, 10 cows and one cat.