The win by the Dallas Cowboys over Washington on Monday Night Football was not an easy contest to watch, unless you are a fan of defenses looking good largely because the offenses are struggling. But if you were watching the beginning of the coverage, there was something going on that, while mentioned, was not explained really well. I'm taking a little bit of a break from my normal Cowboys-centric worldview to share what I found out about this after the game.
During the national anthem, the announcers mentioned that there were 12 World War II veterans on the sidelines being honored to recognize the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The camera panned across these aged former servicemen, standing proudly - if they could.
What was not mentioned was that they were from the Dallas/Ft Worth area, brought in to see the Cowboys play as part of a trip to honor them for their service. The trip was arranged and hosted by USAA, the insurance/financial services company that caters exclusively to military members and their families. It is called an "honor flight". In addition to being at the game, the elderly warriors were taken to Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II Monument. USAA sent me a short video about the trip.
This generation is slowly leaving us. Even in today's chaotic environment, we don't fully realize what these men were part of. It was a time when perhaps 50 million or more people died, and two aggressive military empires came much too close to taking over a large part of the globe. As horrible as some of the things that are happening today are, they pale in comparison to the Holocaust, the Bataan Death March, and the wholesale destruction of so much of Europe and Asia. These men were just ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things, and we owe them a debt that we can never repay.
There is also an historical sidenote about Peal Harbor and the NFL.
Background on the Redskins Playing on December 7, 1941
In what has been called the "most forgotten football game," the Redskins were playing the Eagles during the Pearl Harbor attacks, on December 7th, 1941. By the time the game was over, the news had spread to the East Coast, and the game was rightfully overshadowed. During that game in 1941, the public address announcer summoned military officers and government officials to leave the game and report to their bases and offices, piquing the interest of fans and players alike. 74 years later, USAA and the Washington Redskins remembered that attack and its lasting impact on our nation by hosting WWII veterans in Washington DC that answered the call to service that first began as football games were in progress.
The event last Monday spoke to me, because I grew up the son of one of those veterans. My father, Jack Ryle, passed away just a few years ago, and seldom spoke about his experiences during the war. But I did learn a few things. Although he was a motor pool sergeant in the Army Air Force, he nearly died twice, once in a Luftwaffe bombing raid and then again when a V-1 buzz bomb narrowly missed him while he was out doing a little sightseeing (and, I've always suspected, checking out the British ladies).
One other thing about him. The vast majority of Americans who served were drafted. But my father volunteered - on December 8th, 1941.
His example was part of why I spent 20 years in the Air Force, something of which he was extremely proud. Although he never got to go on one of these trips, I still am glad to see some of the remaining veterans getting some recognition at a time in their life when so many are just forgotten by society.
There has been a lot of criticism of the NFL for taking money to have these kinds of ceremonies, and I suppose this one involved some payment. USAA also advertises during NFL games. But to be honest, I don't care exactly how or why past and present servicemen are honored.
It is just good to see it happen.