It will arguably be the greatest meeting of heroes on a baseball field in recent memory.
Seventy of baseball’s best players will be joined by 30 veterans and service members – among them a Navajo Code Talker and a Paiute advocate for Vietnam War veterans – at the 2013 All-Star Game July 16 at Citi Field in New York.
The veterans and service members were selected for recognition by online votes in the “Tribute for Heroes” campaign sponsored by Major League Baseball and People magazine. The 30 were selected from among 90 finalists; voting was from June 9-30. Each honoree was selected by fans to represent a team.
David E. Patterson Sr. 90, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was selected by fans to represent the Los Angeles Dodgers. Patterson “is among an elite group of Marines who helped create the only unbroken code in modern military history,” People magazine wrote of Patterson.
“As one of the Navajo Code Talkers, David and other Navajos coded and decoded classified military dispatches during [World War II] using a code derived from their Native tongue. The Code Talkers took part in every Marine assault, from Guadalcanal in 1942 to Okinawa in 1945, including the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein, Iwo Jima, and Saipan, and doubtless helped win the war.
“After he was discharged, David, now 90, went to college in Oklahoma and New Mexico, becoming a social worker. He married and raised his family on the reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico, and worked for the Navajo Nation's Division of Social Services until retiring in 1987. He was awarded the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor in 2001 and up until last year volunteered in a Shiprock school on the Navajo Reservation as a foster grandparent.”
Gil Calac, Paiute, of White Swan on the Yakama Nation reservation, was selected by fans to represent the San Francisco Giants. Calac “has done much for veterans since he served in Vietnam and received the Bronze Star for meritorious service,” People magazine wrote.
“Calac, a member of the Paiute/Mission tribe of Susanville, California, and his wife, Valerie, a member of the Yakama Nation, live on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Before retiring, Calac worked as the Center Director of Fort Simcoe Job Corps Center. He is also a member and cultural leader of the Yakama Warriors Association, a veterans organization. As an honor guard member, he participates in flag ceremonies and burials of deceased veterans.
“Calac was instrumental in getting a Vietnam Veterans Day proclaimed in Washington state, working for months with [state] Representative Norm Johnson. Now each year, March 30 is Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
Other honorees include combat and war-injured veterans who became inspirational speakers, mentors, Paralympic athletes, or advocates working on behalf of combat veterans.
Calac, Patterson and the honorees receive a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a VIP reception during the All-Star Red Carpet Show presented by Chevrolet, and honoring at a pre-game ceremony. The game and pre-game festivities will be televised nationally on FOX and broadcast on ESPN Radio.
In a note to Indian Country Today Media Network before he headed to New York, Calac expressed his thanks to all who voted.
The "Tribute For Heroes" campaign is part of Welcome Back Veterans, an initiative of Major League Baseball and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which addresses the needs of veterans after they return from service. According to WelcomeBackVeterans.org, Major League Baseball has committed more than $23 million in grants to hospitals and clinics that provide post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury treatment to veterans and their families. Partners in Welcome Back Veterans include the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and the following hospitals: Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Stanford University Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Depression Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Weill-Cornell Department of Psychiatry in New York, and medical centers at Duke University, Emory University, Rush University, and UCLA.
Major League Baseball and People magazine recruited a guest panel to help select the 90 finalists for online voting. Panel members included retired Army generals Peter W. Chiarelli and General John M. "Jack" Keane, and MLB players Jonny Gomes of the Boston Red Sox, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres, Craig Stammen of the Washington Nationals, Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants.