There are few experiences more humbling than being in a room surrounded by genuine heroes.
Such was the scene at Citi Field on August 5, when United States veterans were honored at a luncheon hosted by Citi and the New York Mets Alumni Association.
Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Bud Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Ed Charles, Joe Pinatano and Mets Broadcaster Ralph Kiner comprised the panel of guest speakers. With the exception of Kranepool, all of the former players served in various divisions of the Armed Forces.
“It’s obviously a great honor to be here to honor the people that fought for our country and tried to make it as wholesome a place as can be,” said Kiner, who was a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II. “All the people that have served voluntarily are wonderful.”
The Mets and Citi also paid tribute to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the first and largest non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to improving the lives of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s great to see some of your childhood heroes,” said Derek Bishop, a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. “Just being here to see them supporting us, and as veterans themselves, it definitely hits a spot at home and shows the true patriotic flavor of the Mets.”
During the luncheon, the panel fielded questions and shared memorable experiences and anecdotes from their times in the service. Before the event’s conclusion, veterans were permitted to request autographs and engage in one-on-one interactions with the Mets Hall of Famers.
The players were primarily from the 1969 Mets, a team that helped ease New Yorkers’ pain during a very difficult time.
“On the cover of the tabloids there was the Vietnam War, and then on the back page there was us,” said Seaver, who was a member of the Marine Corps Reserves. “From the standpoint of what we meant to a community, giving them momentary relief from what was going on seven days a week, it was a very important issue. It’s not something we thought of then. We were trying to win a pennant. But when you get back and you look historically about the part, however miniscule it might be, that’s the part that we played.”
For soldiers fighting overseas in the late 1960s, the Mets provided more than just baseball.
“When the 1969 World Series was on it was something special,” said Marion Gilliams, who was serving in Vietnam at the time. “Guys from the Tristate area were all rooting for them, and when they won, you could hear the roar all over the base camp. We were very proud of it, and when we got to the field we displayed that. We didn’t lose a single man for three months after that, and I think it was because of the morale boost they provided.”