Nov. 12, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In honor of Veterans Day, many businesses in our nation close. Marshall football played a different game.
It was a special Tuesday at the Thundering Herd's usually off-limits practice Tuesday. Eleven veterans from the West Virginia Veterans Home in Barboursville were very special guests at the workout.
The veterans sat in the stands and watched the final hour of practice, then went down to the field to meet Coach Doc Holliday, his assistants and the Herd players.
When Holliday finished his post-practice, midfield meeting with the team, the players applauded enthusiastically as the service veterans walked onto the turf at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The two stadium videoboards sported a Veterans Day display, and the American flag was flying above the Shewey Building, where the ribbon board overlooking the field sported red, white and blue.
"This is unbelievable," said Larry D. Stewart, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Marines and the Army. "We really appreciate this."
The Herd did, too.
"This is huge," Herd senior center Chris Jasperse said. "It's great to be able to give back to these guys, to show our appreciation for what they've done and what all those in the military do. It's great to see them out here.
"This day is all about them and without them and what they do, we wouldn't be able to play this game or live the way we do."
When some talk about "courage" on the football field, Jasperse said it's a different level of that badge with the veterans who have their day every Nov. 11.
"They're real world, real action," the Marshall center said. "We're here playing football, doing what we love. They're out there protecting us, on the battlefield, going overseas, putting it all on the line for our country.
"There's not enough we can do for them. This was just a small token of our appreciation to them -- very small. I wish we could do a lot more for them. But just getting to see these guys, meet them, talk with them a little bit, it's special.
"They're as excited to be down here with us as we are with them. We both love every minute of it."
Michael Stephens, the recreation coordinator for the West Virginia Veterans Home, presented a Certificate of Appreciation to Holliday and the Herd for the visit. Marshall's own "veteran" players - seniors -- presented a Marshall cap to each service veteran.
The 11 veterans also will attend the nationally ranked Herd's Saturday game against Rice at Edwards Stadium as guests of the university and athletic department.
For the game, Marshall players will wear the "75" on their helmets as a memorial to those who died in the 1970 football team plane crash. The front of the helmets also will list one of the armed services - Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard - on a label above the nose bridge.
Thomas Reynolds, MU's director of military and veterans' affairs, also said 20 veterans of various armed forces and wars will be on the field during pregame Saturday, holding American flags as part of a salute. A video from two Marshall Marines serving in Japan - one current student and one alumnus from the MU Masters in Leadership program - also will be shown.
Reynolds said more than 400 current Marshall students are in school on the GI Bill.
"This is the first time we've been invited here for football, and we really appreciate it," Stephens said. "The men really enjoy being out here. We've done things before with men's basketball and the women's sports, but this is a first, and it's something we hope to continue. I can't thank Coach Holliday and Coach Mark Gale (MU football's director of operations) enough."
Holliday walked among the service veterans and shook hands, patted many shoulders and spoke with all of them. As the Herd players broke from their respective position groups, many of them went and shook hands with and thanked the Veterans Home visitors.
"This is unbelievable," the Herd coach said. "It's amazing what they've done for us. They give us the opportunity to play this great game and live in this great country. We're just happy they could be out here today.
"Courage? Absolutely. What these guys have gone through is a sacrifice. One guy just came up to me and showed me he's got bullet holes in his leg. And what they gave for us is just so special, unbelievable. What we play is just a game. It's not a game for them.
"The players were excited. They're kids, but they understand what these men did for us and it's great to share a few moments with them."
The Herd-visiting veterans from the Barboursville Veterans Home hail from five states - West Virginia (6), Kentucky (2), Alabama, Maryland and Virginia. Their names, branch of the military and service:
Danny Adkins, U.S. Air Force, wartime, Vietnam;
Charles Antone, U.S. Marines, U.S. Army, peacetime;
Steven Bates, U.S. Navy, wartime, Afghanistan; peacetime;
Shane Brewer, U.S. Marines, wartime, Bosnia, Afghanistan;
Jerry Burns, U.S. Air Force, wartime, Iraqi Freedom;
James Cranston, U.S. Navy, wartime, Desert Storm;
John Mayer, U.S. Air Force, wartime, Vietnam;
Rusty Rice, U.S. Army, peacetime (Grenada);
Austin Sloan, U.S. Army, wartime, Desert Storm;
Larry D. Stewart, U.S. Marines, wartime, Vietnam; U.S. Army, peacetime;
Aponta Thigpen, U.S. Navy, peacetime.
"This is a very special day for all of us," Holliday said.