PORT ARANSAS, Texas — When Fred Mallett entered the US Navy in 1976, being a sand sculptor was probably the last thing on his mind.
A tragic event during his military service would eventually change his thinking.
“I got blown off an aircraft carrier deck with 18 chains around my neck, and that wasn't fun,” recalled Mallett. "I don't want to really remember much of it.”
Mallett not only had to recover from physical scars, but mental ones, too. He lost one of his Navy buddies that day of the accident.
After his service, Mallett spent 45 years as a business consultant, using the training he received in the military.
Fast forward to 2020: COVID-19 hit. In 2021, he decided to shut everything down and retire.
Mallett turned to a life with two hobby-jobs, as he calls them. One is sand sculpting. The other is as a fishing-boat captain, leading 56-hour tuna-fishing trips off the coast of Port Aransas.
Both "jobs" give Captain Fred, as he’s called, a sense of mental relief, peace and relaxation.
“Sometimes hours will go by,” said Mallet, while brushing sand away from a part of a new exhibit he sculpted during SandFest in Port Aransas. “When things get quiet and you’re just carving then it’s good. It’s good.”
The military patriotic theme of the huge mountain of sand is clearly on display. A large eagle with a flag draped below it titled “Let Freedom Reign.”
There’s also a section dedicated to the 13 service members who were killed on Aug. 26 of this year.
Another section reveals a heart-shaped message with a simple, yet profound "Thank You" to veterans and their families for their service.
“It means an awful lot,” said Mallett as he picks up his chisel to smoothly even out rough edges of his masterpiece. “Just to feel like you’re supporting your brothers you knew, that most of us keep in touch with for the rest of our lives.”
Mallett’s salute in the sand — his messages of respect to military service members and first responders — was clearly received.
“When I see that (Mallet’s sand tribute), it feels like when people are telling us 'Thank You,' " said veteran Charles McDaniel. “They didn’t even know who was going to be here (at SandFest). But the fact that they put that up there, let’s us know that somebody is thinking about us.”