U.S. Air Force Capt. Danielle Reese stood beside her husband, Lt. Col. Mike Venus, and other armed forces personnel behind the Red Sox's dugout before Game 1 of last month's World Series. Suddenly, David Ortiz left batting practice, told them to wait there, disappeared into the clubhouse tunnel and soon came out with a World Series baseball that he flipped to them with a thanks.
It was a simple gesture, like so many you will see across America on this Veterans Day, from front yard flag unfurlings to handshakes, and like the one million photos uploaded by citizens who thanked active and former military members as part of a Bank of America "Express Your Thanks" campaign. It resulted in a $1 million donation to Welcome Back Veterans and Wounded Warriors.
As Big Papi would go on to be named the World Series' Most Valuable Player, what Reese and Venus would remember was that single gesture -- such a great example to follow on this day.
"He saw us in uniform, and he showed his support for the military. It's a great thing when you see people recognize our veterans today in any way," said Reese, stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, 66th Air Base Group, in Bedford, Mass. "My husband was in the military as well in Afghanistan, and a lot of them deal with serious issues when they come back to the States, whether it's reuniting with their families, or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]."
They were there participating in the pregame flag ceremony at Game 1 as part of Major League Baseball's dedication of that game to military members and their families, in support of Welcome Back Veterans. It was like the Veterans Day before Veterans Day, when the bright spotlight of a Fall Classic shines on those who serve or have served their country in protecting the freedoms enjoyed around the clock.
"The fact they would take the time out to recognize us here, it means a lot," Reese continued. "Because you don't see it in the media a lot anymore, what's actually happening in Afghanistan and overseas. So the fact we still recognize them and take the time, at such a monumental event, to look back at our military, it's overwhelming."
On this Veterans Day, the Red Sox announced that they are offering veterans and active duty members of the military free tours of Fenway Park, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Tickets are available at the Gate D ticket booth, located on the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street.
"Well done" is the customary way to say thanks to a military veteran for his or her service. There are many other ways to say that. Offering a job to a returning veteran is one important way. Connecting one to care is another. Doing something above and beyond to help veterans just makes sense.
The Dodgers are hosting about 100 preselected members of the military for batting practice from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers alumni "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Al "The Bull" Ferrara and Roy Gleason (1967 Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient) will provide instruction at various stations and Congressman Xavier Becerra will be on hand to welcome the group. A hitting contest will conclude the event with the first-place winner being awarded the "Veteran of the Game" distinction on Opening Day 2014.
The Mets announced Monday that they will salute U.S. service men and women with Military Mondays during the 2014 season at Citi Field with complimentary tickets, retail discounts and community outreach events. Mets players will wear a new camouflage jersey for every Monday night home game at Citi Field starting April 21. Mets front-office staff, alumni and players will visit a VA Hospital throughout the season to meet the recovering veterans and the dedicated doctors and nurses who care for them.
Bank of America, the official bank of MLB, provided American flags for fans at each entrance before a game in Boston and St. Louis during the World Series, and they were waved during the playing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Its "Express Your Thanks" initiative ended on Veterans Day, and the $1 million raised, on behalf of each of those citizens who participated, goes toward helping service members and veterans succeed here at home. Fans can visit Bank of American/troopthanks to learn more about the program and about how to help returning military and their families.
Another meaningful way to show support for veterans is by donating at WelcomeBackVeterans.org. MLB and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation have committed more than $28 million to Welcome Back Veterans since its inception in 2008. To date, $15 million in grants has been awarded to nonprofit agencies and hospitals supporting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' and their families' greatest needs, focusing on treatment and research of PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
"Welcome Back Veterans' partnership with Major League Baseball's has been fantastic," said Donald Cooke, senior vice president of philanthropy for the McCormick Foundation. "I think we're getting a lot of good stuff done, helping our young veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. We're dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and have a good transition back into their communities, their families, and get jobs and be as productive as we know they can be.
"The key is, we can't hope the government can take care of everything. So we as citizens have to do the best we can and help these folks who defended us and protected us as well. That's the big movement, that communities are behind this, individuals who aren't part of the government, part of the V.A. That's what the real significance is -- that we're all in this together, and these are important folks and the next Greatest Generation."
Nearly three million young men and women have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan over the 12 years of recent wars that the United States has faced. Of that, one out of every three is estimated to have some level of post-traumatic stress, and one out of five is estimated to have to minor to medium traumatic brain injury associated with combat duty. Three million children have been affected as being close relatives of the service members who have deployed. Retired Brig. Gen. Jack Hammond, executive director of the Red Sox's Home Base program, in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital, said 22 service members commit suicide each day across America, one on active duty each day, and currently that exceeds the number of combat losses American troops face each day.
Cook has a simple message to Americans, especially on this day.
"Take care of your veterans," said Cook. "You may not even know who they are in your neighborhood. They have great skills, they have great ability to participate, they want to participate and serve, even after the military, and we should embrace them and help them have a great transition back into their families and communities. It's been challenging for a lot of them, but we've got to be there to help."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.