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Veterans reach home at Dodger Stadium

By Aaron Blevins, 11/15/2012

Team salutes service members with a day of fun

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The Boys in Blue saluted the men and women in red, white and blue in honor of Veterans Day on Monday, opening Dodger Stadium for a fun-filled afternoon of pitching, hitting and, of course, Dodger Dogs.

Former Dodger outfielder and Purple Heart recipient Roy Gleason gave batting tips to veterans at Dodger Stadium. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

More than 100 veterans representing all five branches of the U.S. military attended. Fontana resident Miles Barnes, a counselor for the U.S. Navy who has done three tours overseas, spent the day with his son, Hayden.

“This is awesome,” he said as he played catch with Hayden. “I’m forty years old, and to be out here with my son and for the Dodgers to invite us, I get mushy.”

The Dodgers rolled out the blue carpet for the veterans, offering those in attendance a batting practice T-shirt and other collectibles. The military members all got a chance at the plate as Pasadena City College players shagged balls.

The veterans also had an opportunity to showcase their arms in the Dodgers bullpen, and were given a tour of Dodger Stadium. Several had a chance to meet the handful of Dodger alums on hand. Former “Dancing with the Stars” host Samantha Harris sang the National Anthem.

Former Dodger outfielder Roy Gleason gave his insights to vets in the batter’s box. He played with the Dodgers organization from 1961 to 1969, missing the ’67 and ’68 seasons due to his service in Vietnam.

Gleason was wounded — both by AK-47 gunfire and shrapnel — after the 9th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army was ambushed. He was injured on July 24, 1968, and spent more than six months in the hospital for arm, leg and elbow injuries.

“Being out here today with the veterans — It’s just an honor for me to be here,” Gleason said. “To me, anybody that serves their country is a hero. But the real heroes, to me, are the ones that didn’t come home. As the saying goes, ‘Some gave all. All gave some.’ We gave some but, thankfully, we’re here today to talk about it.”

He praised the Dodgers for hosting the Veterans Day event, one that had been held two years ago, but was cancelled last year, Gleason said. He hopes it becomes an annual tradition.

“It shows the kind of class the organization has,” Gleason added. “Veterans really appreciate this — just to walk on the field or to sit in the dugout. It’s a big thing. It still is to me, and I played here. It means a lot.”

He is the only player in Major League Baseball history to receive a Purple Heart, a World Series ring and a perfect batting average. After several years on the Dodgers minor-league teams, he ripped a double in his only Major League at-bat. When asked if he’d seen any talent on the field on Monday, Gleason admitted jokingly, “Not yet.”

“These guys, they’re happy to swing the bat in a batting cage in a real Major League ballpark,” he said. “It’s a big deal. I know how big a deal it was for me. …Thank you to all our veterans. It was an honor to have served, myself, and it’s an honor to be among the veterans here today. It’s my honor.”

Veterans at Dodger Stadium were also treated to some videos that showed the Dodgers’ military ties. One showed Al “The Bull” Ferrera thanking veterans at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in West L.A. last Friday.

Former Dodger Rick Monday was the subject of another video. On April 25, 1976, as a member of the Chicago Cubs, Monday was playing outfield at Dodger Stadium. During the game, two protestors ran onto the field, pulled out an American Flag, doused it in lighter fluid and lit two matches, both of which blew out before touching the flag.

On the third attempt, Monday ran over and grabbed the American Flag. Although he was a member of the opposing team, he received a standing ovation during his next at-bat, and the scoreboard read, “Rick Monday… You made a great play.” Monday still has the flag.

“It was a magical moment, because I could do something about it,” Monday, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves, said in the video. “You don’t always get that opportunity.”

The Dodgers also toasted their military veterans: Tommy Lasorda, U.S. Army; Jackie Robinson, U.S. Army; Don Newcombe, U.S. Army; Vin Scully, U.S. Navy; Rick Monday, Marine Corps; Roy Gleason, U.S. Army; Al Downing, Army Reserve; and former general manager Fred Claire, U.S. Navy. Newcombe was among those who welcomed the veterans to Dodger Stadium.

“Most of all, we want you to enjoy yourselves. This is a part of your home — Dodger Stadium. Don’t forget that now,” Newcombe said. “Thank you all for your service to our country. As a member of the Army myself, I’m very proud to have served, and just as proud to honor you on Veterans Day.”

Congressman Xavier Beccera (D-California) also thanked the troops, but made sure to mention the families in attendance as well.

“Too often we forget to thank the family members of those who have served, because they [too] have served,” he said.

The veterans in attendance seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event. Canyon Lake resident Diane Ducat, a photographer and public affairs officer for the Air National Guard, said it was “awesome.”

“It’s a totally once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “It’s something I never thought I’d get to do. I think it’s great because I don’t believe that the military gets necessarily enough money or benefits to begin with. So, I think it’s great we get a little something extra on the side, you know, to be recognized.”

Richard Martinez, a staff non-commission officer in charge of a recruiting substation, was equally pleased to be at Dodger Stadium. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, and now resides near Los Feliz.

“It’s great,” Martinez added. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, so being able to actually come out here on the field and see some of these Dodgers legends, it’s a good experience.”

 

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