Friday, August 2, 2013

Wounded Warriors Have a Few Words for Players

Ball players and wounded warrior
Former Army Sgt Rich Yarosh with
players Mike Knapp and Mike Myers
UTICA -- Young American Legion baseball players visited wounded warriors and nursing home veterans Tuesday, July 30, the day before the New York State Legion Baseball Championship Tournament got underway in Utica. State American Legion (Department) Commander Ken Governor joined the youth as they visited Sitrin Health Care Center's Military Rehabilitation Program.

Bill Roberts and Ken Governor
Maj. Bill Roberts & Cmdr Ken Governor
"If you don't ever give up" in the face of adversity, "you'll never fail," retired Army Maj. Bill Roberts of Boonville told players from Rome's Smith Post 24, New Hartford Post 1376, Rochester's Ferris-Goodridge Post 330, and Utica host Andrean Post 625.

Former Army Sgt. Rick Yarosh of Binghamton had a similar message: "Play hard, play as a team, and make sure you become a family. It's more than just baseball. Working as a team and becoming family...That's how we survived in Iraq."

Roberts, who served three tours in Iraq before heading to Afghanistan where a roadside bomb caused his vehicle to flip and crush his spine, noted that after a number of back surgeries and now rehab at Sitrin, "I'm just glad I can walk again," albeit with a cane.

Rick Yarosh and Michael Knapp
Rick Yarosh autographs ball for
Michael Knapp of Rochester's
Ferris-Goodrich Post 330.
A roadside bomb burned 60 percent of Yarosh's body, scarred his face and torso, maimed his hands, and amputated his right leg. He came to Sitrin to undergo therapy that would help him play golf again, and then Sitrin hired him to work with other wounded warriors.

The players handed baseballs to both men, asking for their autographs.

"It was amazing," Roberts said. "I was never asked for my autograph before. I'm an infantry officer. I'm used to being on the other side, asking for autographs."

Andrean Post Commander and Tournament Director Michael Macchione noted that with the best teams in the state playing for the championship, The American Legion "wanted to make a different connection" for the players. Some were visiting World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans at St. Luke's Home across town, while other players were spending a little time with wounded warriors and other Persian Gulf veterans at Sitrin, where they could get "autographs to take home and put on the mantle" as true momentoes.

Commander Governor added that the day illustrated what The American Legion is really about -- "service first to our veterans, to families and youth, to our communities."

Former Army Sgt. Jennifer Fitzgerald and Commander Ken Governor

Department Commander Ken Governor chats with former Army Sgt. Jennifer Fitzgerald, who is the military consultant for Sitrin's Military Rehabilitation Center.

Rosemary Bonacci

Rosemary Benzo Bonacci, Sitrin's vice president of Development and Communications, shows an illustration of a lakeside lodge that Sitrin plans to build at its nearby Camp Sitrin -- to provide a therapeutic environment for various traumas that military personnel have suffered.

Commander Ken Governor tours Camp Sitrin 

Department Commander Ken Governor takes a tour of 24-acre Camp Sitrin, which provides a therapeutic and educational environment for wounded warriors and others. "I'm so impressed with what you guys are doing," Governor told Sitrin's Clinical Development Vice President Jackie Warmuth (left), Sitrin volunteer Army Sgt. First Class Dane Halligan (2nd from left), and Sitrin's Development and Communications VP Rosemary Bonacci. "You're thinking outside the box."

Mike Macchione and Jackie Warmuth

Baseball Tournament Director Michael Macchione with Sitrin VP Jackie Warmuth during a tour of Camp Sitrin.