Veterans Day And Vanderbilt Football: More Than A Game

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NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 11: The Vanderbilt Commodores wave the American flag and US Army 101st Airborne flag as they run out to face the Kentucky Wildcats on November 11, 2017 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Veterans Day And Vanderbilt Football: More Than A Game

Veterans Day fell on Saturday this year; it was a gorgeous autumn day in Nashville, TN.  The leaves were turning colors, the sun was out and football fans were in full tailgate mode. Football is a serious business in the SEC, and wins do not come easily. College football pregame hype is usually just that — hype, but Vanderbilt was getting the pregame hype that was much more meaningful than stats. The Dores had planned a Veterans Day alternate uniform that would honor some of our nations fallen heroes, and EVERYONE was talking about it. It put life into perspective and made Saturday’s contest more than just a football game.

The Game

I loathe recaps, I love the deeper story. And Vandy gave me just that — a deeper story on Saturday, so I am going to tell it. But just in case you care, here is the game recap:

Ralph Webb #7 celebrating after his touchdown. Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN on November 11, 2017. Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton

Vanderbilt hosted the Kentucky Wildcats. The final score was 44-21 in favor of the Wildcats. The Commodores now sit at 4-6 on the season. The only stat that you actually need to know is Ralph Webb rushed for 70 yards and one touchdown. Webb surpassed Emmitt Smith in the top 10 SEC all-time leading rushers with 3,960 career yards. Webb and the rest of the seniors last home game is Saturday against Missouri. And every single  Vanderbilt fan needs to be in the stands. These players have given their all to this team and they deserve a FULL stadium and your applause.

More Than Just A Game

National Anthem at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN on November 11, 2017. Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton

There were several activities going on to help Vanderbilt celebrate Veterans Day. The National Anthem was performed by Nashville Fire Department Pipes & Drums. While Ft. Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division had several soldiers on hand to help with the flag during the national anthem. They also provided a terrific fly-over. As well as having the Anchor dropped by Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Sollom, the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major Jonathan Simmons, for 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). I asked what Lieutenant Colonel Sollom thought of the special uniforms and all the activities, “It is Veterans Day and not Memorial Day but it is always great to see soldiers honored and to bring attention to their service. It is great to be here today.” There was also a reenlistment ceremony by SPC Timothy Metcalf that was administered by Captain Jonathan Henry.

The Uniforms

Vanderbilt wore their Deep Water uniforms with a very special addition. The nameplates on the back. Each Vanderbilt player wore the name of a fallen soldier as well as a patch with their branch of service on the front. The coaches also wore special sweatshirts with a flag V star with a soldiers name and his branch of service patch. The complete list of soldiers honored by Vanderbilt and a bio from their families can be found here.

Here is how this all came about with Amy Cotta, the founder of Medals of Honor and Senior kicker Tommy Openshaw.

Awestruck

Amy Cotta and the Medals of Honor organization were recognized on the field on Saturday.  Monday after the game, Cotta tried to describe her experience, “I am beyond being able to come up with the words or phrases to describe the feelings of the day. Seeing the outpouring of love and respect from everyone players, staff and even the Vanderbilt and Kentucky fans I was awestruck.” Cotta continued, “It was amazing to be able to share these soldiers stories and they became more than a name and a death date. I watched the replay of the game and hearing the commentators talk about the uniforms, the project and the soldiers were very overwhelming in the best possible way.”

Nathan Marcus: Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker – Air Force

Nathan Marcus #83 waiting to run the American Flag on to the field Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN on November 11, 2017. Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton

Nathan Marcus had the honor of running the American flag onto the field for Vanderbilt. His thoughts on wearing Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Stonebraker’s name, “It was very humbling, and sort of strange but very cool. I was representing someone else and their family name so it was a little extra motivation to go out there and play at an even higher level. I did some research on Kenneth Stonebraker just to better understand the family story and so I could honor the sacrifice he made.”

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Stonebraker

• Still MIA from Vietnam since October 28, 1968
• Was on a night recon mission flying a rf-4c
• This October marks 49 years MIA

Sam Dobbs: SFC Michael Braden – Army

Sam Dobbs shared his feelings on the day “Honestly, I don’t feel worthy enough to wear something that honorable on my back. My soldier, Michael Braden, and those other soldiers gave their lives for us and the weight of their sacrifices mean so much more than football, the game we all love to play. Although the score of the didn’t turn out the way we wanted, wearing the names of the fallen helped us come closer together and learn not to take anything for granted. In the end, I was proud to wear the jersey knowing that the families of the fallen soldiers were watching and touched by the gesture. It pushed me to give off a more positive attitude and play for something greater than myself.”

Sergeant First Class Michael Braden

• 26 year veteran of the TN Army National Guard
• Wonderful husband and father of 4
• Was the Readiness NCO of the Lobelville 278th armory, TN Wildlife Hunter Safety Instructor, a USA Jr. Boxing judge and a mentor to many children in the court system
• Died in action July 9, 2014

Oren Burks: SPC Christopher Horton – Army

Oren Burks described his experience, “It was such an honor to play for the memory of Christopher Horton. It put a lot of things into perspective. We are blessed to play a game that we love because of the freedom those men and women fought for. Then thinking about all of the vets that are still alive today but may not be in the best situation in terms of quality of life. I feel like we can do better supporting them and their families.”

Specialist Christopher Horton

• From Collinsville, OK
• Assigned to 1st Battalion, 279 Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
• Died in action September 9, 2011, in Zurmat district, Paktia province, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms

Tommy Openshaw:  LCPL Benjamin Gearheart – Marines

Tommy Openshaw #17 and Reid Nelson #97 pray with the Vanderbilt Specialists pregame at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN on November 11, 2017. Photo by Kate Pearson-Halyburton

Openshaw revealed his feelings on the game events he was a part of, “It was a pretty sobering and surreal experience. I had chills all throughout the pregame just thinking about what it meant. I thought about how each one of those heroes was looking down on us and hopefully felt that we were doing their memories justice. I know I was thinking about Benjamin Gearheart for the entirety of the game. I wasn’t playing for myself or for Vanderbilt, I was playing for him. Obviously, the results weren’t what we wanted, but I think the experience will have a lifelong impact on me.”

Lance Corporal Benjamin Gearheart

• 1st Marine Division, 1st LAR BN D. Company
• During a training maneuver the LAV he was in went down on a mountainside on base at Camp Pendleton, CA
• Left behind mom, dad, and 3 brothers
• Died from injuries received in the accident August 27, 1997

Thank You

There are no words that can describe the emotion at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday. It was amazing to watch all the soldiers interacting with everyone on the field. The respect, the stories, the hugs and the gratitude was electric. The thoughts from the players above made me proud and emotional. There is so much turmoil in the world right now, but Saturday afternoon in Nashville there was nothing but the utmost respect and an outpouring of love for everyone, especially those who have dedicated their lives to protecting the freedom we take for granted.

The land of the free, because of the brave, Thank You!

Main Photo Credit:

 

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 11: The Vanderbilt Commodores wave the American flag and US Army 101st Airborne flag as they run out to face the Kentucky Wildcats on November 11, 2017 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

 

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