The mournful sound of generations of Native American warriors and mothers echoed off the walls of the small, and otherwise perfectly silent room. The song’s single verse tells of the somber return of the tribe’s warriors, with an lone horse with no rider in tow. The lone horse has no rider because the rider had lost their life in the previous day’s battle. The returning warriors carry the heavy heart into their homes from the battlefield, but it is the families that learn of their loved one’s demise by witnessing the return of the lone horse. No exchange of words in necessary, not that words would do anything to ease the suffering of the families.
The words of the song were in a language that none of us spoke, but we understood its meaning perfectly. In the room were US Marines, US Army soldiers, US Air Force Airmen, a US Navy sailor, and a crazy Canuck from the Canadian Infantry. In the room were veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Some in the room had lost limbs or suffered severe injuries due to combat. Others in the room had suffered, and survived prognosis, surgery, and treatment for cancer. All in the room possessed a virtue that is unrivaled. As we listened to the singing of our Native American brother Gill, a Giants fan from Washington state, our thoughts turned inward. We remembered our fallen brothers and sisters. We thought of our friends who are currently in harm’s way, ensuring our freedom. We thought about where we were, and where we had come from.
At the end of the song, and a few remarks from our Chaplain and war hero Corbin, and Oakland A’s fan, we all raised our hands and said “I.” this gesture was symbolic of our presence at the gathering, not just physically, but manually and spiritually as well. By raising our hands we were claiming to the group that we are here in the moment, we are thankful to still be counted amongst our brothers and sisters, and that we are fully committed to each other.
We all took one moment more for introspection, gave thanks, remembered our fallen, wiped our tears, and began offering peace to the others in the room. Hugs, handshakes, and conversations of thanks ensued.
This new family had been compete strangers four days earlier. We had all arrived in New York, invited by Major League Baseball and People magazine as part of a contest to honor veterans from our armed forces. Over the following four days, through a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences including a private tour of the 9/11 memorial,All Star Brunches, and the Home Rum Derby, we bonded. We shared stories of our service, our injuries, our bouts with adversity. We all individually don’t accept or like being called heroes, but it’s safe for me to say that the rest of the group are all heroes to me. I learned more and more about virtue, and I was inspired by my new family.
Amongst all of the excitement surrounding Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, the most valuable things I came away with were the incredible people I met, and the relationships I now cherish with those folks.
After Gill sang his Warrior song, and after we all expressed our love for our new family, we had the unheard of opportunity to take to the field prior to the first pitch of the game. We stood at spots on the field normally reserved for the elite athletes of Major League Baseball. The players that we replaced offered us a flag, a flag that had been flown over the stadium of our favorite teams. We had the rare opportunity to share remarks with our favorite athletes, and then rendered honors to a flag that covered the entire outfield. From my first day in the Navy, I have been taught that while saluting my body is to stand tall, rigid, and without emotion. My salute must be a stoic, solemn, and respectful gesture. But as the woman singing our powerful anthem began the line, “ O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave…” the reaction of the enormous crowd made me smile, laugh, and tear up a little bit. It was such a powerful moment to share with all of those people. Brought together by our love for baseball, but united in our appreciation and love for our freedom and those who wish to lay down their lives to protect it. I will never forget this moment!
I have thanked many, and will continue to do so, even though I know the words will never be enough! First of all, many thanks to the folks at the USABA and Delta Gamma for nominating me for this opportunity. Thanks to People Magazine and Major League Baseball for pulling my story out of the many. Thanks to everyone for your votes, support, and social media blitzing that earned me the spot for the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks again to our incredible hosts from People magazine and Major League Baseball. Thanks to my fellow contestants, and for the memories we will now share forever. Thanks to Gill, Corbin and the rest of the “elders” for their mentorship. Most of all thanks to everyone who has offered their life in the service of this great country (and Canada) and our way of life!