The Washington Redskins and USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the Washington Redskins, hosted 12 World War II veterans this past weekend, courtesy of Honor Flight DFW.
In partnership with USAA, the Redskins hosted 12 World War II veterans, courtesy of Honor Flight DFW, in Washington, D.C. – a trip that concluded Monday at FedExField for the Redskins’ Salute to Service game, presented by USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the Washington Redskins.
Before the start of the Redskins-Cowboys game, the group of veterans were welcomed to the field during the singing of the National Anthem, next to the field-sized American flag held by uniformed military. The veterans then took center stage as they were honored during the first break of the first quarter – a moment when all in attendance gave a hearty ovation to representatives of “America’s greatest generation.”
“They’ve been smiling all weekend. I’ve been doing the same,” said Ronney Wright, USAA’s Military Affairs representative for the Capitol Region. “And you think about what they represent, the war that everyone came together to support. The smile just keeps getting bigger and bigger because they are having a great time. It’s just an honor to be around them.”
The 12 veterans arrived Saturday at Reagan International Airport and were greeted by Redskins cheerleaders and team alumni Brig Owens and Carl Kammerer. Honor Flight, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing veterans to Washington, D.C., to view memorials built in their honor, was responsible for organizing the trip.
Sunday, the veterans participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Redskins Super Bowl XVII champions Mark Moseley and Rick “Doc” Walker attended the event – both former players who come from military families, giving the ceremony extra significance for them.
“My father was a Marine, and you understand the significance of what the military represents – what it means,” said Walker, a former tight end-turned-radio host who lived on a military base with his family for 10 years. “Having been on base for so long and seen the terrific sacrifice, it’s an honor to be here and see how we represent those who gave their life for our country. It’s touching.”
While Moseley and Walker boast some impressive accolades between them — including their Super Bowl rings and Moseley’s league MVP honor — it was clear who the two former players consider to be their heroes.
“This is the final stop. This is where all the gladiators rest who gave up their life so a guy like myself could play a sport,” Walker said. “Those are true heroes. We’re talking about people how we anoint Super Bowl champions — these are world champions, and I mean world champions.”
For Moseley, who has family that served in World War II, the ceremony was particularly touching.
“It’s emotional, it really is,” he said. “It makes you sit down and take thought about our freedoms and our liberties that we have, that we take for granted every day. It’s a real pleasure for me to have an opportunity to do something — it’s a small thing, but to them it’s big — and I’m just glad to have an opportunity to do it.”
Among the veterans that took part in Sunday’s wreath laying was Dale “Doc” Nelsen, who served as a Senior Chief Hospitalman in the U.S. Navy. Nelson’s time in the service saw him participate in the North African Campaign, the invasion of Sicily and the invasion Omaha Beach on D-Day. Nelsen, a recipient of the Bronze Star and nine campaign ribbons, was thrilled to be taking part in the Honor Flight.
“The receptions we’ve had going and coming have been out of this world. We feel so honored, it’s absolutely fabulous, I don’t have any other word for it other than fabulous,” Nelson said.
He added: “In all the years I’ve lived, I never thought that I would be honored and have such experiences” that include having the chance to take part in the sacred act of placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Also taking part in the ceremony was Esther Spring, who served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in the Pacific. Spring, the only woman on the Honor Flight, was overwhelmed with gratitude as she took in Arlington National Cemetery.
“I was born in a small town, and never thought I’d get this far,” she said. “I feel blessed. Lucky.”
Before Monday’s game, the group finished their tour of Washington, D.C., at the World War II Memorial where they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial’s annual Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance ceremony.
“If we don’t take care of history, we’re in trouble – we’re in big trouble,” stated Ronney Wright, a Navy veteran of 31 years. “I’m proud of those folks’ service, I’m proud of my service, proud of what we’re doing here with USAA, being the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL and the Washington Redskins. It doesn’t get any better than this. These are the true veterans.”
Jake Kring-Schreifels, Bryan Van Balen and Elizabeth Harley contributed to this article.