All proceeds of the event went to support the local Disabled American Veterans chapter.
Tents for recruiters, various nonprofits and Sports Clips were set up along the outside of the Lee University Flames Baseball team’s Olympic Field.
Head baseball coach Mark Brew said the event was a success.
“We had a lot of veterans there and the community was awesome,” he said. “It was just a special day. We had a lot of opportunities to honor them and the Voices of Lee did a great job in their tribute to the vetearns (the choir performed several songs). It was a home run for the community and the vetrans.”
On the field, the baseball players wore their camouflage jerseys and hats in a double-header against Christian Brothers University. First pitches were made by U.S. Army veteran Andrew Smith and U.S. Marines veteran Bill Gray. The crowd filled the stands in support of the veterans and players alike.
Gray, who is also the commander of the local DAV, said he is happy with the community turnout.
“Lee University and the sponsors who are here have done a great job,” he said. “They have made us feel welcome and given us freebies to pass out to the veterans. How can you not enjoy that?”
According to the Veterans Affairs table set up at the gate’s entrance, roughly 70 veterans signed in by 2:30 p.m. The goal was to tap into the several thousand living in the Bradley County area.
Gray said he hoped more would turn out before the end of the event.
“The support is here ... I hope they come out and enjoy the ball game,” he said. “When the community does something for the veterans, I think the veterans need to be part of it. They need to get involved in it. They are showing their appreciation for us, but by the same token, we want to show our appreciation for them.”
Gray is acutely aware of newfound support offered to soldiers across the country. He was one of many soldiers who served in Vietnam to be treated poorly upon his return from war.
“It is here now,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of it. We need to tell our story and let people know what a serviceman goes through. It is important that the community knows why they are here and that their support is appreciated.”
Vietnam veteran Jim Yother, who served as a field artilleryman in the Army for 23 years, appreciated the event.
“My wife and all of her relatives graduated from Lee, and I at one time worked at Lee in the maintenance department. I just love being around the veterans and talking to these guys. Lee is doing a great job. It is good they recognize these guys,” he said. “It’s got a great turnout, and the weather is beautiful.”
Continued Yother, “I spent two years in Vietnam, and when I came back from Vietnam those two times, we didn’t get the support people are getting these days. It is great the American public is realizing and honoring these guys who spent so much time in danger, and some of them were wounded and didn’t come back. I think it is great they are [recognizing] them.”
Andrew Smith, a Lee University alumnus, is one such veteran who was wounded in action while deployed to Afghanistan. He and his wife, Tori, launched “Honoring the Sacrifice,” a nonprofit to aid those disabled while in service.
“It is more about a partnership than it is about giving money away. When Andrew came back to town he had so many great things happen for him. We were so blessed, and we believe a lot of that is the Lord. We think we were put in that position to see us compared to the next guy,” Tori said. “We just thought everyone was getting taken care of, but we realized that is not the case. It put a burden on our heart to raise awareness, raise funds and be able to help the next guy.”
More information on the nonprofit can be found at www.honoringthesacrifice.org.
Andrew said he was in the hospital for the first Military Appreciation Day held last year.
“I think this is awesome. We both graduated from [Lee],” Andrew said. “Lee has a great program for doing this.”