The National Pastime and the National Defense are never very far apart from each other in the consciousness of many during a typical year in the United States of America. Thursday is Veterans Day, and Major League Baseball and its clubs are taking this occasion to solemnly remember those veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country -- and to pay heed to those who have served and share in tributes today.
There are many ways to commemorate this day, personal to each citizen. Maybe you will be watching Hall of Fame broadcaster and former player and Marine Lt. Col. Jerry Coleman as grand marshal, leading the annual Veterans Day Parade through Manhattan. Maybe you will go to see the new USS Jason Dunham missile destroyer off Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., being commissioned to the Navy on Saturday. Marlins team members just toured it in tribute to the ship's fallen namesake, who lost his life during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 while trying to save the lives of platoon members.
Maybe you will be thinking of the many Major League legends, a list that includes Bob Feller and Ted Williams, who have gaps in their baseball service records due to service for their country -- or Hoyt Wilhelm and Warren Spahn, who received Purple Hearts for their role in the Battle of the Bulge. Maybe you will take an active role in supporting Welcome Back Veterans, by donating to a fund that gives much-needed care to those returning from war. The familiar Stars & Stripes caps worn by players at times during the 2010 season make nice gifts, and portions of each sale go to Welcome Back Veterans.
"Soldiers and their families face so many difficult feelings and reactions upon re-deployment, including: anxiety, anger, trouble sleeping, and frustration," said Colonel Richard Staats, commander for the Army Reserve's 211th Regional Support Group, on the MyArmyReserve blog. "In developing a plan, we must recognize our newfound strengths and capabilities, as well as our limitations and challenges. This is a process and it takes time. The Rule of Thumb says that it takes twice as long as you were gone to readjust. As leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure our Soldiers and their families have resources and the support they need to make this transition."
During an MLB visit to a Dallas V.A. health care facility on the morning of Game 4, John Campbell, deputy undersecretary of defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, said it is about "getting the country to understand just how valuable these young men and women are. I think other sports should do the same thing. Major League Baseball is kind of leading the way in doing this, so hat's off to them."
Campbell said that "reintegration is difficult" but that there is snowballing progress in trying to make it easier for returning military and their families.
"What we all have to do is work really hard at coming up with innovative ways to reintegrate service members and their families back into society," he said. "That isn't easy when 99 percent of the population -- although they feel very strongly about the service members, very supportive -- are not involved. So it's up to us to really create that level of understanding where they now know what they need to do. We're working at it. It's not an easy process. I think it has to start with the communities.
"It's not just about, 'Oh, too bad' and 'They deserve it.' These young men and women are remarkable. They've got skills that go far behind war fighting."
Coleman fought in World War II, and he is part of a non-profit, nationwide grassroots campaign called "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" -- honoring the men and women of the WWII generation. He wanted MLB to recognize Aug. 14, 2010, as the 65th anniversary of that war's end, and last summer he sent emails to all 30 clubs seeking that help -- and received 30 "yes" responses.
On Wednesday, Coleman was at the MLB headquarters in New York, presenting vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell with a commemorative pin and patch of the "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" campaign -- and keeping the memory alive.
"My five years in the Marine Corps really made me what I am," Coleman said. "And to that, even with all the great victories with the Yankees and all the stories there -- which I love dearly -- the most important years of my life were my time with the service."
It is a day for appreciation of those who served, and it was expressed well by Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who said after touring the USS Jason Dunham: "We talked to the sailors. They said, 'Thanks for coming.' I was like, 'No, thank you. You're the ones risking your lives so I can play sports.'"
Happy Veterans Day.