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Friends take a photo for Ooga

Fellow veterans, fishermen reach out to friend

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 6:46 pm

A day of music and fellowship for those touched by Coastside fisherman and smoked-fish maker Don “Ooga” Smith is Sunday, Aug. 26, in Princeton.

Smith is in the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto following a stroke and brain injury. But Coastside friends and fellow veterans are making sure he knows he’s in their thoughts.

“Ooga Day” begins at 2 p.m. on Aug. 26 at the American Legion Post 474, at 460 Capistrano Road in Princeton.

Smith’s friend, pilot Eddie Andreini, will do some aerial stunts over the event grounds. Refreshments will include paella made by a chef friend. Local rockers Blame it on the Dog will play, and videographer Eric Nelson will film the event.

The highlight of the day is a photograph to be taken at 3 p.m., of all Ooga’s friends who come to the event and want to send good wishes to him. It may be a group shot or it may be a collage, said Russell Bissonnette of the American Legion, Post 474, but either way, friends will take it to the VA for Ooga to see.

Bissonnette met Smith in the 1970s, when Bissonnette was tending bar at the Miramar Beach Restaurant. Fellow Vietnam veterans, the two bonded quickly.

“He was definitely and truly a Marine,” said Bissonnette. “He believed in doing Marine stuff. He’s got integrity, he’s got strength. Marines have this certain thing, and he’s a Marine.”

But he did not let storied Marine gruffness interfere with compassion.

Though his wartime experiences impacted him, while in Vietnam he made a point of teaching kids a few English words. “It gave a positive light in a world that was so negative” said daughter Gayle.

After the war — sometime in the mid-1980s, calculated daughter Smith — Ooga began his work of making smoked fish. An avid fisherman who worked coastal waters between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, Bodega and Coos bays and even Alaska, he owned two smokehouses on the Coastside: one in the building now occupied by Café Classique, and the other in Princeton.

Gayle had positive images of her dad. “He was a storyteller,” she said of her father. “He was very big-hearted, very caring, very compassionate,” advocating for Vietnam returnees, helping veterans and their families get medical information through the VA.

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