Military Appreciation Day at Lee University on Saturday is centered on the great American traditions of the armed forces and baseball.
Despite a two-week delay in holding the inaugural celebration, all originally planned activities — except one — remain in the hopper for the weekend event. Dale Earnhardt’s No. 88 car sponsored by the Tennessee National Guard will not be available as it was on the original March 23 date.
However, Cleveland’s National Guard 252nd Military Police Co. will provide other military equipment for display.
The 252nd is made up of local troops who have contributed greatly to the war efforts over the past 10 years in addition to successful stateside missions. The most recent was traveling to Washington, D.C., in January in support of presidential inauguration logistics.
The Tennessee Army National Guard has participated in many deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Kosovo, Desert Shield/Storm, Vietnam, World War II and more. More than 141 Tennesseans have been wounded or killed in action since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began. The 252nd returned from its last theater deployment in Iraq in July 2010.
Lee University head baseball coach Mark Brew expressed his appreciation to members of the 252nd Military Police Co., who are also next-door neighbors, spouses, parents, sons and daughters.
“Sgt. 1st Class Richard Baxter and Staff Sgt. John Thompson from the local recruiting office have been a huge asset as we have prepared for this event. They have been on many of those deployments and have friends who have been affected either by paying the ultimate sacrifice or being wounded in combat,” Brew said. “I am very thankful for their sacrifices overseas so I can coach baseball, and for their community support at home.”
The tribute to active duty and military veterans begins at 11 a.m. when the gates, booths and food concessions open, followed by the first game of the doubleheader at noon.
Ceremonies begin at 11:45 a.m. with retired U.S. Air Force Chaplain Ben Perez leading a moment of silence and prayer. A flyover by the Civil Air Patrol and presentation of colors by the Bradley Central High School ROTC color guard under the direction of Lt. Col. Chris Ingle follows. The pregame ceremonies conclude with the national anthem performed by Mary Hobbs, representing the U.S. Marine Corps.; Jared Barton, representing the U.S. Army; and an ensemble from First Baptist Church Choir.
World War II veterans Claude Wallace, who served in the Navy, and Pearl Harbor survivor George Allen will throw out the first pitches.
“God Bless America” by Hobbs, Barton and First Baptist Church ensemble will perform “God Bless America” in place of the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
At 1:30 p.m. or after the final out, all active duty and military veterans will be asked to make their way to the end of the first base dugout in order to enter the field for a special ceremony between games and remarks from Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.
The purpose of Military Appreciation Day is to honor local veterans for their sacrifices and serve as a fundraiser for construction of a veterans’ park.
Activities include Kid Zone, inflatables, baseball speed throw, whiffle ball and servings of hand-dipped ice cream.
Admission to the games is by donation only, with proceeds going toward the veterans park on the west end of Spring Creek on Veterans Memorial Highway (APD 40) east of the BP convenience store located on the corner of 25th and Parker streets.
The park will also link to the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, which leads to Schimmels Park on the campus of Lee University and the Museum Center at Five Points.
The chief methods of fundraising are through camouflage T-shirts during the game and through local businesses, “Memory or Honor” flags, donations and a silent auction featuring a signed jersey by John Smoltz which will run throughout the first game. Other items include commemorative military coin sets, a Chattanooga Lookouts package as well as various other MLB memorabilia. Items go to the highest bids and winning bidders do not have to be present to win.