By Pete Zamplas –
“Wounded Warriors” is their name, softball is their game, and they are raising money to help other veterans while earning awe for heroic and athletic fame.
Raising money for Operation Welcome Home (OWH) local veteran job training scholarships affiliated with locally-based HonorAir is the ultimate aim of the first area visit of Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST). The nationally-touring, slow-pitch softball team will play a pair of OWH-benefiting games next week. They face Buncombe then Henderson squads mainly of law enforcement and emergency personnel, as the diamond will be full of heroes on both sides.
The first exhibition is Friday, May 17 at 7 p.m. in Asheville’s historic and cozy McCormick Field, the Tourists’ minor league park. The rain date is Saturday night, May 18.
On Saturday at 2 p.m., the touring vets play at West Henderson High School which is off N.C. 191 in the Mills River area.
WWAST’s website has bios on its 14 players. Their hometowns are from coast to coast. Some are still in the military. All lost limbs in active duty, in the dozen years since the “9/11” terrorist attack. Most lost a lower leg. They are as old as 52 and 46. But nine of the 14 players are in their twenties.
So, they have youth and plenty of energy and determination on their side. Their motto is “Life without a limb is limitless.” They prove it on the field, hoping to inspire other amputees to live as productive a life as possible. Their mission is also to boost public awareness of the “sacrifices and resilience of our military, and highlight their ability to rise above any challenge.”
The games spotlight these veterans’ “heroic dedication, and example of overcoming physical obstacles,” said Jeff Miller, HonorAir founder who facilitated their local games. “This throws a spotlight on challenges that men and women face, coming home with these injuries,” he told The Tribune. “We think of ‘total disability,’ but they won’t let it be a disability for them. You better play your A game, against them.”
Miller, Hendersonville businessman, through the Honor Flight Network since 2006 has enabled well over 100,000 World War II veterans (including 2,000 from WNC) fly at no cost to them to visit the WWII monument in Washington, D.C. The latest locally-departing trip was May 7.
In expanding HonorAir, Miller knows first-hand about the can-do spirit. He said Wounded Warriors “didn’t quit, after they got hit, on the battlefield and now the homefront.”
‘Welcome Home’ Training
The softball event coordinator is Larry Rostetter, a Vietnam-era (1961-66) Navy veteran. He was impressed when visiting HonorAir’s Operation Welcome Home (OWH) training, such as for truck driving and culinary arts in-house or nursing at A-B Tech. “I ate dinner they cooked. It was outstanding.”
Homeless military veterans stay in Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministries Veterans’ Restoration Quarters and Transitional housing facility, in a converted motel at 1329 Tunnel Road. This is the third largest veterans’ facility “by contract” in the nation and has 239 beds, Miller noted. It opened five and a half years ago.
The program has trained over 500 veterans and placed most with jobs, after boosting job and life skills such as money and anger management, Miller said. He said a remarkable 92 percent of these vets still have their job after eight months. There are weekly Bible readings and sobriety meetings. Michael Reich is the program director.
“One of five homeless people in this country are veterans,” Miller said. “Many have substance abuse. We teach them how to go over and kill, but not how to adapt after coming home. We address psychological and physical issues.” He noted the local HonorAir shifted focus two years ago, from flying WWII vets to helping “homeless vets” amidst the sagging economy. “We teach a real skill for them to make a living wage, for the rest of their lives so they can take care of a family.”
Local Law, Rescue Heroes
Rostetter is active in Senior League softball in Henderson County. Senior all-stars have won many state titles.
Rostetter started with these “softball friends,” for part of the May 19 challenge of WWAST. Senior League players slated to play include manager Ken Hahn, Randy Bowman, Dale Bradley, David Clay, Bill Close, Bob Drew, Herman Eaker, Randy Eaton, Sonny Johnston, George Rabb, Tom Welbourn and Tim Wilson. Those in a scrimmage against the local emergency crew April 26 also included T.C. Roberson High girls basketball head coach Tim Epley; Danny Davis, Scott Miller and Barry Rosenberg.
The Asheville-Buncombe First Responder Team that plays WWAST May 18 consists of 10 firefighters, and nine from law enforcement including highway patrolmen Craig Harris and Nathan Monroe.
WWAST’s featured foes May 19 are on a Henderson County team, managed by County Emergency Management Coordinator Rocky Hyder. Valley Hill Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Matthew Hossley recruited players. Coaches are Sheriff Charlie McDonald, Valley Hill’s Hossley and Tim Garren, and Mountain Home’s Jimmy Womack. Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Griffin of the Sheriff’s Department will play music, as sound man. Players are from EMS and these squads: Blue Ridge, Dana, Green River, Hendersonville, Mills River and Saluda.
This emergency squad edged the “Super Senior Team” by 27-23 in a scrimmage 26, blasting five homers culminating in a “walk-off’ grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. Senior player Tom Hendley stated, “Our hitting was terrific and our defense was almost flawless. We got beat by a good hitting attack, (especially) in the last inning.”
Tickets are $10 per person, for the game each day and site. They are sold at the McCormick Field box office, or Visitor’s Center off Hendersonville’s Main Street. For more on Wounded Warriors, check www.wwastwnc.com. For more on Operation Welcome Home, the program these games benefit, check abccm.org or http://www.honorair.com/operation-welcome-home.